Australia/Canada — Kelly Bedford was residing in the state of Victoria in Australia when the devastating “Black Saturday” bushfires happened on February 7, 2009.
As the inferno raged all over the region, Bedford, being a seasonal forest firefighter, saw an opportunity to be involved in combating the fires. He was ready and eager but because he is a Canadian citizen, the Australia fire centre couldn’t use him due to complications regarding insurance coverage.
“I was devastated,” said Bedford, who was a former member of the Rapattack fire crews in Alberta. “I approached them and said ‘hey guys you need me. But they told me sorry we can’t use you.’ I couldn’t fight the fire. That was the tough part for me because that’s what I was trained to do.”
But as an able-bodied young man with a lot of skill-sets, Bedford refused to just watch idly and do nothing. He then joined the relief effort led by the Rotary Club of Alexandra in Victoria, of which he was an honorary member, and because of his knowledge in emergency situations Bedford became an integral component of the operation.
“The relief effort happened so fast and starting coming in huge numbers. The Rotary Club took over and I was part of that,” said Bedford. “Within 24-hours I found myself second-in-command.”
Bedford spent countless hours for four to five weeks organizing the tsunami of donations that came in and their distribution to the thousands of evacuees.
“It was huge,” said Bedford. “There was so much and they were all over the warehouse where we stored them.”
The bushfires ended up causing unprecedented devastation and loss of life and property 173 people lost their lives during the fire that ravaged 51 townships, destroying 2,000 homes along with many businesses, schools and kin-dergartens.Bedford has been back in Canada for a year-and-half now. He resides here in the Comox Valley and works as a bartender at Whistle Stop Pub. He is also a music producer.
What Bedford did for the state of Victoria during an emergency, however, has not gone unappreciated. The Rotary Club of Alexandra nominated him for the Australian National Emergency Medal, one of the highest awards a civilian can earn in Australia. He was awarded the medal but was not able to attend the prestigious award ceremony because he had already left Australia.
“I thought they were just going to mail it to me,” said Bedford. “Me and my friends were joking about it. But last week I was told that the Governor-General of Australia [Quentin Bryce] will be presenting it to me. I was surprised.”
Bryce’s Canadian counterpart, Governor-General David Johnston, invited her to visit Canada. She will be in Vancouver next week. It will be a first for Australia as Bryce will lead a delegation of prominent Indigenous Australians for dialogues on the common opportunities and challenges faced by both nations’ aboriginal people.
During her stopover in Vancouver on Tuesday, Bryce will make time, off her busy schedule, to meet Bedford and present him with the medal in a small ceremony. The citation for the award states: “Mr Bedford has demonstrated sustained service in the protection of lives and property, and in the interest of others, in direct response to the Victorian Bushfire emergency. He is thoroughly deserving of recognition.”
“It’s overwhelming to be receiving this medal from the Governor-General,” said Bedford. “It’s going to be a huge honour.”
Bedford continues to help the state of Victoria recover from the devastation. He’s using the sale of his music CDs to raise funds, donating half of the proceeds to the Rotary Club of Alexandra.