Volunteer firefighter numbers spike across southern New South Wales following bushfires


February 17, 2020 09:44:05

A feeling of helplessness during the summer’s devastating bushfires led Jack Campbell to join his local rural fire brigade.

Key points:

  • The Rural Fire Service is seeing a big increase in people keen to volunteer with their local fire brigade.
  • New volunteers learn about a variety of roles, not just fire fighting.
  • The more volunteers the better, as people are busy with family and work to attend every time they are called up.

“I got stuck in Batemans Bay and about half-a-dozen of my mates all lost their homes, my mum lost her home, so I just need to help,” Mr Campbell said.

“The whole area was pretty much wiped out, so you’ve just got to do what you can to help now. When I was down there I couldn’t do anything.”

Mr Campbell who lives near Albury on the New South Wales-Victorian border experienced the fires twice.

“We were stuck in Batemans Bay for about nine days, we had no food, no water, no electricity, no phones, no fuel,” he said.

While back home the Dunns Road fire north of Albury burnt for 50 days, destroying more than 180 homes and devastating more than 333,000 hectares of land.

He said one thing that stood out during the fires was the tireless work of the volunteer firefighters.

“All you saw all day, you heard sirens all day, everyone going back and forth ā€” but I couldn’t do anything. So next time it happens you want to be able to help out,” he said.

He was one of the countless community members left inspired to join the brigade in the wake of this summer’s bushfires.

Fellow Albury local Troy Harris was able to assist but now wants to do more.

“During the fires, myself and a mate who has a transport company ended up teaming together with the Lavington Rural Fire Brigade in transporting all their goods up to the firegrounds,” he said.

“We spent six days running in and out of there and thought it’d be a good thing to get around and get amongst.”

Despite never considering becoming a volunteer, Mr Harris is now he is hoping to go from helping in the background, to joining the front line.

“I want to learn where you can go from here, what you can do and what you can give back and help out,” he said.

Volunteer inquiries spike

Lavington Rural Fire Brigade’s senior deputy captain and training officer Kathy Barnes said the interest in joining the border based brigade had been unprecedented.

“Compared to last year, [when] we may have had a dozen, this year we’ve had a couple of hundred,” she said.

But Ms Barnes said she was not surprised.

“When the fires hit locally around here closer, and the call came out that people needed help, everyone just came out. It’s the Australian spirit ā€” when it’s needed people come out,” she said.

“They start to realise what we do and what roles they could play, some people look and go ‘Oh I don’t want to be a firefighter, there’s nothing for me to do.’ But there actually is ā€” there are non-firefighting roles.”

She said it will be critical for potential volunteers not to get caught up in the hype of the bushfire season and to understand exactly what goes into joining the brigade.

In response, the brigade has opened its doors and invited those considering becoming a volunteer to come along and find out what it takes.

Yesterday, more than a dozen people including Mr Campbell and Mr Harris attended an information session at the brigade’s headquarters.

“It is not easy, it is hard work. It is not just about getting on a firetruck with lights and sirens and going to a fire and putting water on it. You do have to have the skills to be able to do it, to keep yourself safe as well as the rest of your crew safe,” Ms Barnes said.

“The sky is your limit with the RFS they will support you all of the way. You basically become one big family doing a job to help protect the community.”

Many hands make light work

Despite having 55 active junior and senior members, Ms Barnes said they are always looking for more volunteers.

“Because we are all volunteers, people have their day jobs, their families and everything to fit in around it. So sometimes we might have 20 people turn up for a call out, sometimes you might only have five, so new members are always welcome.

“The more people that come and be involved, the easier it is for everybody.

“There are just so many roles and so many components of being a member of the rural fire service.”











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