The future of one of the south-west's oldest State Emergency Services units hangs in the balance and volunteer members fear for their fate.
The Cobden SES is currently locked in a stalemate with state SES and Corangamite Shire Council.
The unit's 120-year-old Silvester Street building is currently owned by the council. But earlier this year council proposed to gift the site to the SES for $1.
A member, who wished to have his name withheld for fear of jeopardising his position, said Cobden had not been involved in discussions into the future of their unit.
"The unit has been falling apart for want of a better term, and we're not getting any help from headquarters," he said.
"We're in a 120-year-old building, it's riddled with asbestos, we can barely fit our truck in it and we can't fit any of the trailers that we use in it.
"For example, we've got a storm trailer that we use to fix people's roofs when they get storm damage and the like, and it's over 30 years old and is supposed to be upgraded every 10 years. But we're not getting upgraded because we can't get things fitted into the building.
"What it really needs is to be bulldozed and rebuilt."
The passionate volunteer said the Cobden SES unit was not looking for a handout - they had saved almost $200,000 of the estimated $250,000 they would need to completely rebuild their headquarters - but he claimed state SES bureaucrats would not meet them in the middle.
"They haven't accepted the Shire's proposal to gift us the building yet, they don't want to help us get a new premises somewhere and they don't want to accept the proposal of us getting the building we've got to bulldoze and rebuild a proper building," he said.
"As a consequence, the Cobden SES unit is more than likely going to close. This will mean that emergencies will have to be handled by the Camperdown or Port Campbell SES units, which will increase response times considerably in potentially life-threatening situations.
"The Cobden SES unit is a consistently used resource by the public, local authorities and other emergency services. The unit averages over 50 call outs each year. The probable closure of the unit will put lives at risk."
The probable closure of the unit will put lives at risk.
Corangamite Shire CEO Andrew Mason said council was currently negotiating the proposal with state SES.
"It's been a statewide program for councils to hand over control of SES buildings to SES organisations and we've played a part in that," he said.
"It makes sense in terms of councils don't manage or own any other emergency service building like CFA or Ambulance Victoria.
"We're currently negotiating the gifting of the Cobden SES building to the Victorian statewide SES. Part of the reason we are doing that is that once the SES owns and controls their own building, it gives them the ability to invest in and plan for their future.
"We are confident we will get to the point where we will gift the land."
He said council had been talking with the Victorian SES chief executive officer and not with the Cobden SES unit about the transaction.
"The Cobden unit were involved in the initial conversation when negotiating the gifting of the building," he said.
SES Victoria failed to answer a number of The Standard's questions about the future of the Cobden SES.
Instead, a spokeswoman issued this statement: "We are working with Corangamite Shire Council with regards to the facilities of the Cobden unit."
The more then 100-year-old building was originally a hall, then it was a picture theatre, before it became the Cobden SES headquarters.
The Cobden SES volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous, said membership numbers were drying up and the 12-odd members who remain believe it's got to do with the "impractical" building.
"From the outside it looks quaint and nice, but it's just impractical," he said.
"Our membership is slowly dying as members retire and others get fed up with the situation.
"They seem pretty keen to want Cobden to go away, this has been going on for years. They're putting us in the 'too hard' basket hoping it will all go away.
"The most ideal situation is to put us on a flat, level block in town and build a new building. But we know that's costly and not likely to happen.
"So the alternative next best step is to have the building donated, be allowed to demolish it, and put up a new building. We've costed it around $250,000.
"We've got close to $200,000 to go towards it. All we'd be looking for is a grant from Regional SES of $50,000. Then we'd be able to have a unit that is viable into the future."
He said they were all volunteers who wanted to better the community.
The Cobden SES is made up of volunteers, we're not getting anything out of it, we're just trying to put something back into the community.
"The Cobden SES is made up of volunteers, we're not getting anything out of it, we're just trying to put something back into the community," he said.
"Nobody wants to make waves about it because they're too frightened that they will take away from us what we've got and close the unit down.
"No-one wants to upset the apple cart, it's really old-school thinking, but I think we need to make a noise to be heard. It's got to that stage now.
"We're willing to chip in our fair share, but no-one else is meeting us in the middle. Just help us rebuild our building."
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