James Dunn in uniform in front of a CFS appliance
I really enjoyed being volunteering as it was a way for me to help the community and gain some skills while I was sorting out what I wanted to do in life.

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James Dunn

When he is not on duty as a radar operator with the 16 Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery most often James Dunn can be found at the local Country Fire Service (CFS) station at Woodside.

In his spare time the current serving ADF member is a volunteer fire fighter and says he would not have it any other way.

“Growing up in country Victoria fires were a big part of summer so when I turned 17 I signed up to be a volunteer fire fighter at the local station in Stawell,” Mr Dunn said.

After almost a decade as a volunteer fire fighter Mr Dunn decided to join the Australian Defence Force at the age of 26.

“The first few weeks after I joined were very much a culture shock being put in really highly stressful situations but after all my time as a fire fighter I was able to lean on my training and keep a level head and it paid off,” he said.

“Basic training was a lot easier for me than some of my peers because I knew how to deal with those really intense situations and could keep focused on what I needed to do to get the job done.

“We learned early on you need to work and rely on your team and that came a lot more naturally for me because out on a fire field your team is all you have.”

When he was posted to Woodside Mr Dunn approached his Commanding Officer to see whether he could sign up to the local CFS unit and to his delighted was allowed.

“It really is the best of both worlds for me and allows me to have some work life balance,” he said.

“With a decade of experience with the CFA in Victoria coming to the CFS in South Australia meant I got to see a different way of doing things and I have been able to offer some different perspectives which was been rewarding.”

While the 2019-2020 fire season will be one that most Australian will never forget Mr Dunn said it was probably the only time in his life he was “seriously nervous” about the fire situation.

“Going to fires, rescues and fatalities is something that I have been doing for so long and you expect to be feeling uncomfortable when you head out, but the last fire season was something truly different.

“The ferocity and unrelenting nature of the Cudlee Creek fire and then the Kangaroo Island fire straight after was something else.”

Mr Dunn describes a particular incident where his military training really helped him deal with what he experienced.

“It was during the Cudlee Creek fire at one point the fire surrounded us and we had to wait it out, it was a trying experience I will never forget.

“I really had to trust those I was with that day and thankfully we all came out okay. I then went on to follow that intense experience up by being sent to Kangaroo Island which I can only describe as apocalyptic.

“Afterwards I reflected that is was because of my ADF training that I had the mental fortitude and stamina along with the skills to deal with that.”

He credits the ADF and his time as a fire fighter for helping him become an adult and for his passion to help others.

“Getting put in really difficult situations is challenging but having the skills to be able to deal with that is key. I have been able to use the skills I have developed to give back to the local community and that makes me really proud.

“I am not afraid to stand up and be a leader and the ADF and firefighting has given me the confidence to not be afraid or resist responsibilities.”

Mr Dunn said he hopes that by ADF members getting involved in the community it shows that those who serve are just like everyone else.

“Sometimes people think Army guys are just young, fit men who follow orders but that is not it at all. At Woodside we are really excited and keen to be involved in the community and our Commanding Officer pushes us to get involved in the local community.”

Mr Dunn’s story is part of an ongoing story telling series by Veterans SA. To read more stories of how those with military experience living in South Australia are contributing to our community click here.