Dassault Systèmes’ Asia Pacific South Extraordinary People Spotlight is a series to highlight stories of the amazing individuals who work in our Asia Pacific South offices. This month, meet Tristan Kolay, Talent Acquisition Specialist for Asia Pacific South, based in Dassault Systèmes’ Perth office, who is also an active volunteer firefighter.
Tristan has been on the fire-fighting task force for SWORD (State Wide Operational Response Division) Volunteer Fire & Emergency Services (VFES), a bushfire fighting unit in Western Australia, since 2019. Just earlier this year, Tristan joined hundreds of other firefighters to quell out-of-control bushfires which threatened lives and homes in Perth’s Northern and Southern suburbs. While the fires have been contained, Tristan’s unit continues to be on alert.
In this interview, Tristan shares his story of what it’s like being on the frontline in containing some of Western Australia’s bushfires.
1. Why did you choose to volunteer as a firefighter with SWORD?
I enjoy giving back to community. I’ve been an active volunteer with Rotary International supporting local families and migrant refugees in need with food and education. I also spent seven years as an Australian Army Reserve.
To be honest, I missed the hands-on action and mateship I experienced in the 16th Battalion which was my previous Army Unit. But additionally, I was keen to help my community as best I can in a hands-on capacity.’
2. How do you balance your work commitments with your volunteer firefighting responsibilities?
One of the best things about working at Dassault Systèmes is the support from my leadership to volunteer as a firefighter through SWORD.
I’m also lucky to have a very supportive wife and in-laws, as firefighting can be demanding in terms of time and commitment during the bushfire season. My wife, Bobbi, is an entrepreneur and is pretty understanding about my commitments. Firefighting is almost like a second career that needs training, practice and team building.
3. What were some of your proudest firefighting achievements with SWORD?
Hard question, there’s been a couple. In December 2019, I was part of many brigades sent to contain a massive bushfire in Yanchep, a suburb north of Perth. This was a residentially dense locale. We worked for days to contain the fire and at one point, formed a physical barrier of firefighting appliances (fire fighting trucks) to protect the homes. Earlier that day, local kids came out and gave us icy poles which was great given the heat. I was chuffed.
In January 2020, we were deployed to support a town called Balladonia, 900km southeast of Perth, as part of a multi-brigade Strike Team to protect the township and roadhouse from bushfire. It was extremely remote with limited water so we had to improvise with hand tools which wasn’t glamorous but necessary. Nearing the end, our colleagues rescued a few alpacas from a farm. I understand the younger one was named after one of the firefighters who helped to rescue it.
We had a few major fires North and South of Perth this January 2021 where I got to act as a Crew Leader of a light tanker (4WD) and do more off-road driving, which was a fun and character-building experience.
At Red Gully, after a night of patrolling and blacking out the fireground, I witnessed one of most visually breathtaking sunrises I’ve ever seen in Australia. I’ll never forget that.
4. What’s your advice to people looking balance their job commitments with volunteer work?
I would say, reflect upon your life goals and see how your work and potential volunteer commitments could co-exist, if not complement each other.
Then make sure that your family/partner and work leadership are aware of your goals and why, so they can ideally support you and know what to expect.
After marriage and two kids later, this has so far worked for me.