Fighting fires, lifting spirits

Belinda Crossman 19 June 2024
  • Veteran stories

Ex-Army firefighter, SES volunteer and Army Cadet Staff officer Ken Cook has spent years supporting the community in many ways.

Ken Cook’s connection to service is hard to miss. He wears it on his proverbial sleeve – and all over his motorbike. 

From front to back, Ken’s bike is adorned with the Australian flag and Army badge (Rising Sun), illustrations of Peacekeepers and the charge at Beersheba, silhouettes of marching ANZAC soldiers, scatterings of red poppies, and the words ‘Their service, their sacrifice, our freedom’. 

Ken Cook

“I've seen various bikes done up differently, but this is the first commemorative one I've seen that's not ex-military,” Ken says.  

“The guy I bought it from let me test ride it for three weeks but to be honest, by the time I hit the end of his road, I was ready to turn around and pay him for it.” 

Commemoration on wheels  

The bike’s original owner, a fellow veteran and Army Cadet Staff officer, had the bike decorated in tribute to his 30-year Army career and those who served before him. Not surprisingly, the distinctive ride attracts a lot of compliments and requests for appearances. 

“People love the poppy theme. They reckon it's the only one they've ever seen done like this,” Ken says. “If someone wants it displayed at an event, I'm happy to bring it along, provided they've got the right insurance and permissions.” 

Ken Cook commemorative motorcycle

It’s not just a display piece, though. Ken’s bike has seen its fair share of adventures, including a charity Christmas ride in 2023, and an Australia Day ride with the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club.  

“I enjoy owning it. It really does mean something in terms of service and respect for people that have served in the past,” Ken says. “The look on people's faces when they see it brings a bit of joy to me as well.” 

A life of service  

Ken always wanted to be a firefighter and joined the Army to do so in 2003. Initially posted to 1st Aviation Regiment, he served a mandatory 12 months in another corps (Transport) before serving at Army Aviation Centre Oakey’s fire station, which has since closed.  

“That was the last 24/7, 365-day working Army fire station,” Ken explains. “We still did the on-base roles, like tending alarms at the different buildings on base, which no other fire station firies were doing in the Army.” 

Ken Cook

An accident led to Ken’s medical discharge in 2007, and since then he’s spent countless hours serving the veteran and wider community.  

As RSL South Eastern District Delegate, he’s a key point of contact between RSL Queensland State Branch, RSL South Eastern District and his Sub Branch. And as Ashgrove-Bardon RSL Sub Branch Vice President, Ken is actively involved in organising activities including member meetings, local commemorations, fundraising drives, and social outings for war widows.  

“We’re fairly tight-knit, all-inclusive and welcoming here,” he says. 

Ken’s dedication to community goes back a long time. After many years in the Scouting movement, he joined the State Emergency Service (SES) in 1990 and has deployed across Queensland and even New South Wales to assist at fires, searches, vehicle crashes, and during natural disasters. 

“I’m now a leading field operator, so I can lead teams in the field, run incident management teams on searches and stuff like that. I'm also Cert IV training and education qualified, so I deliver courses and train newer members coming through,” he explains. 

“I've also been a peer supporter – doing low-level counselling – within the SES, because I've been there; I've done it; I've pretty much seen it all. So, if I can assist newer members with any issues they're having, I'm happy to.” 

Ken Cook

In 2015, Ken’s passion for mentoring inspired him to join the Australian Army Cadets (AAC) as a volunteer.  

“I'm the Quartermaster up at (123 Army Cadet Unit) Caboolture and assist at most activities where possible, like annual camps and promotion courses,” he says. “Our unit staff are all either ex-military or ex-AAC, so our cadets get first-hand practical information.” 

Comic relief 

More recently, Ken joined his unit’s morale team – something he believes might be unique among cadet units in South Queensland AAC Brigade.  

“When I first did a promotion course a few years ago, I said, ‘Can I do something if the kids need cheering up?’ They said, ‘Bring whatever you need to. We can't guarantee it'll happen, but we'll see’.  

Ken Cook outfits

Ken’s novelty suits always brighten the mood at annual SES awards events. He received the Group Member of the Year Award in 2022 and has twice received the Lord Mayor's Outstanding Service Award. 

“The cadets arrived on the Saturday. By the Thursday night, the morale was nosediving. And I happened to take my inflatable (cartoon character) Pikachu suit.” 

Without warning, Ken donned the giant suit and burst onto the stage midway through a presentation, igniting the whole room with laughter. “It was only a 30-second thing, but it did so much for the kids, and now we do something like that every year. 

“It does pick up everybody's morale, and it picks us up as well.” 

Being there for others 

Being there for veterans, cadets and community members brings Ken a lot of satisfaction – as does setting an example for his children. “All I can hope is that they get the same sort of community involvement that I have,” he says.  

Soon, he hopes to weave his own story into the ones adorning his bike. 

Ken Cook

Ken receives a certificate from then Commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Katarina Carroll APM 

“I’m going to fit a towbar and tow a trailer behind it, which I'm going to decal based on my own service,” he says. “I'll probably add the Transport, Engineer and Army Fire Service badges; the Army Cadet and SES badges; and the Ode.”  

Customise motorbike help wanted 

Can you help customise Ken’s bike? He’d love to hear from you. Please email 

Become a volunteer  

Are you interested in volunteering? Find your local RSL Sub Branch and become a member today.