IT was the trip of a lifetime that took an Oakleigh-based fire officer far from his station.
Last week Rob Dean and 23 members of a Metropolitan Fire Brigade running team were feted at a civic reception at Parliament House, Melbourne, to celebrate the completion of their 4000-kilometre charity run from Gallipoli.
Beginning their trip on April 26, the participants, having run regular shifts of six hours on and 12 hours off, reached London via Greece, Italy, France and Belgium four weeks later on May 18.
Commander Dean, 57, said the run, which took two years to plan, was “ambitious” with 14 fire museum staff as support crew and a Hotchkiss fire truck (circa 1914) also making the trip.
The $50,000 raised went to The Alfred hospital burns unit – which treated a fire officer seriously injured in a Yarraville fire last year – the Catherine Freeman Foundation and the Shrine of Remembrance Foundation.
Mr Dean said the run was more than just a fund-raiser and something of a pilgrimage for the runners.
The team gathered at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, for the Anzac Day dawn service, having spent days visiting iconic sites such as Lone Pine and The Neck.
“Each and every one of us had a [family] connection to World War I. It was very emotional for everybody,” Mr Dean said.
During the service, he paid homage to his grandfather, who was among the first Anzacs to hit the Gallipoli shore on April 25, 1915.
He later fought in major battles on the Western Front in France.
During the run, the teams were split into three – each named after a Victoria Cross winner – and took turns to run 72-kilometre legs, stopping at “places of interest”.
At a small town in Belgium, Mr Dean found the war grave of one of his great uncles, who fought in the ‘Great War’.
Other members found burial sites of their grandfathers, great uncles and great grandfathers.
“It had a real impact on me. Visiting the Western Front, the Somme – it was a bit of a pilgrimage,” Mr Dean said.
In each country, local fire services looked after the team – whether being chaperoned during their runs or being housed in fire stations and given a feed.
Mr Dean was amazed at the respect received in Turkey, the nation which Anzacs tried to invade during World War I.
“They couldn’t have done more for us. There was even one Turkish runner who ran with us to Greece.”
Mr Dean felt greatly respected in France, where Australian soldiers had liberated a number of villages from occupation.
“Victorian school kids had raised funds to rebuild a school in 1921. In the school quadrangle they still have a big sign up that says ‘Never Forget Australia’.”
As the oldest runner in the group, Mr Dean found the event a great trial of endurance.
“I just felt tiredness, and a few aches here and there. We were lucky we got through the run without any serious injuries at all.”
Although he thoroughly enjoyed the trip, he doubted he’d be part of a repeat run. However, the club has plans for a New York-Los Angeles run in 2011 to recognise the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Epic journey: Rob Dean reflects on a memorable run. Picture: Lucy Di Paolo