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  • Fijian volunteer firefighters in a group smiling
Fijian meat workers become volunteer firefighters in Victoria

Motivated by a desire to give back to their community, more than 40 Fijians in regional Victoria have volunteered to become firefighters with the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

Fijian and Australian volunteer firefighters standing by firetruck
More than 40 Fijian workers in regional Victoria have volunteered to become firefighters with the CFA.

The Fijians have thrown themselves into community work since arriving in Swan Hill, in north-west Victoria, to work in the meat processing industry in February 2022. 

It all started with one volunteer, Josateki Vunimasi from the village of Namatakula, who felt compelled to join the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) after seeing news about the 2019 Australian bushfires while at home in Fiji. 

"It made me sad," Josateki told the ABC

"The koalas and the kangaroos that I saw gave me tears and that is why I wanted to join, so I can save them. 

"I feel proud of myself because back at home I was about to apply but due to COVID-19 I didn't get a chance - now I get it," he said. 

When others heard about the training that Josateki was doing, they wanted to join in as well. 

Fijian workers stand by a firetruck doing drills
The Fijian volunteers have received training for firefighting, road rescues, emergency medical responses and more.

The Fijian volunteers received training to be involved in tasks such as fighting fires, road rescues, emergency medical responses and more. 

Now they are fully trained, they may be called in to assist with protecting lives and property in times of emergency. 

Swan Hill CFA acting assistant chief fire officer Gavin Wright said the Fijian volunteers were an ideal fit for the organisation. 

"The enthusiasm and dedication they are bringing, to me, they are showing all the hallmarks of getting through their initial training and becoming substantial and embedded members of this brigade," he told the ABC. 

"If we think about the lifestyle back in Fiji, they are very community-oriented people, so for them it is an easy step to take to be part of a community-based organisation like CFA - it's a natural fit." 

Community integration through volunteering 

Jona Ovini, the president of the Fijian Association of Swan Hill, said volunteering came naturally to many of the newly arrived PALM scheme workers. 

“It’s a thing with most of us Fijians, the ones who are in the village do a lot of community and volunteering work,” he said. 

Fijian worker Josateki stands by firetruck smiling
Josateki Vunimasi felt compelled to join the CFA after seeing news about the 2019 Australian bushfires while at home in Fiji. 

Swan Hill has a growing Fijian population, adding 50 more members through the PALM scheme this year, and they have been involved in other community engagements. 

“We’re not only doing volunteering work for the CFA, when they came here in February, we started off with volunteering with the council for Harmony Day,” Mr Ovini said. 

“The news that has spread all over, even if there is an elderly [person] that want their lawns mowed or their compost cleaned, give us a call and we’ll come to you. 

“The majority of the residents here in Swan Hill know the Fijian community.” 

The community group is seeking a van to help facilitate its volunteering activities, with many of the PALM scheme workers currently walking from home.