Mark Wallace jokes he was signed on at birth to his local fire brigade.
And he had no more choice in adopting the orange jacket than he did in joining the other community big in his father’s life – the church.
The two institutions, often the pillars of country towns, are decades on facing similar challenges.
But one has aided the other in the case of Mr Wallace’s home town of Porepunkah.
The Union Church came to be in the early 1900s because of three men – Henry Wallace, George Rainer and Harry Winter, who donated money, land, and hard labour respectively.
The humble timber structure was literally without foundations, but its doors were open to all, despite how they practised their faith.
Decades on, it was Henry Wallace’s grandson Ian Wallace, who Coralyn Steel remembers knocking on her door when she and her husband Peter had just moved from Berrigan.
“Ian was told we were a couple of Uniting Church people, so he came down to our place quick-smart and said ‘Welcome to our church’,” Mrs Steel said.
“It was a church for all who wanted to use it.
“It was mainly the congregation that funded the church.”
Ian Wallace and his family, and many more community members sustained the church throughout the end of the 20th Century, and the Steels helped lead the charge throughout the 2000s.
“Things started to slow from 2008,” Mrs Steel said.
“Younger people have their families and are taking on more responsibilities.
“When the congregation started to get a bit old, and Ian and I were the youngest there, we got a bit worried.”
Mr Wallace’s parents passed away in 2008 and 2009 and their funerals were the last to take place in the little church on Bailey Street.
By 2016 the congregation had observed their final Christmas service, and the committee met to discuss the inevitable.
“The writing was on the wall – the church needed renovations and there was no money going in,” Mrs Steel said.
“Nobody really owned the church, so we had to apply for a title to be able to sell it and that took a few years.
“The committee’s approach was that the church was there for the people of Porepunkah and when it was sold, they wanted to find a recipient for proceeds of the sale.”
By the time the Union Church sold for $235,000 in July last year to a local lady, the committee had learned of the fire brigade’s ambitions to upgrade their station just a couple blocks down the road.
The church committee decided $110,000 would be donated to the brigade, $43,500 to Hawthorn Village aged care facility, and $20,000 would to the 4 Kids and Carers Future Foundation.
It was bittersweet music to captain Mick Dalbosco’s ears.
“It’s a sad thing for the church, but it’s also a positive thing for the brigade and the town,” he said.
“Our shed was built nearly 30 years ago and since then the number of dwellings in town have doubled, and we need to rethink the physical structure of not only the shed, but the appliances we’ve got there.
“We’re leaning more and more towards structure fires and we’re looking at the possibility of housing a small town pumper.
“We’re also being requested to more rescues at Mount Buffalo and surrounds.
“Just last week we had a mountain bike accident nearby where we had to assist in a walk-out and the patient ended up with a cracked vertebrae.”
Mr Dalbosco’s father features often on the brigade honour board, like Mr Wallace’s.
He is on the way to achieving his grandfather Jack Wallace’s 42 years, and can point out the many roofs in town he has traversed (much to the annoyance of his wife Ann, who washed his uniforms).
“I was always the one stupid enough to get up the ladder … back in those days it was all tobacco kiln fires,” Mr Wallace said.
“You used to go to the fire, come back, have a beer and go back to work.
“Now there’s more and more paperwork you have to do.”
Mr Dalbosco said with the increased red tape, also came better practises.
“Following the Linton fires the CFA has put more emphasis on training generally, and there’s a big focus on safety,” he said.
First lieutenant Colin Bertuch remembers the fire in 1982 that nearly took out Bright, and the many times Buffalo has turned red over the years.
“Almost the same area of land burned, every three or so years,” he said.
“2009 was Mudgegonga, and 2011 and 2013 was Harrietville.
“A number of brigade members have also been on strike teams, assisting at places like Kinglake and Swifts Creek.”
There are many farmers and producers like Mr Bertuch who make up the volunteer Porepunkah and district rural fire brigade, much like when it was founded in 1942.
“The CFA as an organisation has an average age of 55, and they’re wanting to reduce that,” he said.
“In recent years we’ve been able to see people come in who are under 40 and 30.”
Membership has grown to 55 people recently, with standing room only at meetings.
The main ambition for Mr Dalbosco, even more important than improving the brigade’s physical home, is to keep growing its diversity.
“We’ve got quite a mix of people from tradies and farmers to people who are working on Spring Street and in other offices, and with that comes different skills,” he said.
“There’s a mix of ages and we’re continually trying to bring youth in and maintain interest.
“We aim to make it a community place that everyone feels comfortable to come to.
“We plan to have a plaque or some sort of recognition of the funding that has come from the church at the station.”
Mr Dalbosco hopes an expansion of their station, making it more inclusive and open for community use, will encourage new members.
If the Porepunkah brigade is on the list when successful applicants in round two of the enhancing volunteerism grants are announced by the state government in coming weeks, they will get to work straight away.
The project will cost $400,000, but it won’t be the biggest infrastructure project Porepunkah has seen recently.
The town looks very different than it did even five years ago – and while it may now be without a church, it still has the same community spirit at its core.
Ian Wallace would have been sad about the demise of the church he put so much time and effort into, but glad to know it supported his brigade.
“Mark’s dad and mine, they just loved their community,” Mr Dalbosco said.