Following Australia’s worst bushfire season on record, New South Wales Fire and Rescue recently announced for the first time since early July 2019, there were no active bush or grass fires in the state.
Currently there is 152,798 volunteer firefighters in Australia. During the height of the crisis, there were around 2,700 firefighters actively fighting bushfires at one time.
During the 240 days of fire activity in NSW, volunteer firefighters balanced full or part-time work, as well as family and personal commitments, in order to protect and defend their local communities during the emergency. Many Wormald staff are among those who selflessly gave up their time at a moment’s notice to help their local rural and country fire services, often times placing their own safety at risk.
Our volunteers include active firefighters on the front line to logistical coordinators who work behind the scenes delivering vital supplies. We are sharing some of our volunteers’ stories in acknowledgement of the enormous contribution they have made in protecting people, property and wildlife during the recent bushfire season.
Benjamin Smith, Wyee Rural Fire Brigade, NSW
Wormald’s Fire Sprinkler Fitter Benjamin Smith joined the NSW RFS when he was 14 years old, continuing a long family tradition. He has progressed through the ranks from junior volunteer to firefighter and Deputy Captain.
“My grandparents were very involved in the rural fire service as firefighters. My father has been a firefighter for 38 years and my older brother joined at around the same time as me.”
During fourteen years serving the Mannering Park Brigade and two years with Wyee Brigade, Benjamin has attended bushfires of all sizes as well as structural fires, car accidents, search and rescue retrievals, ambulance assist and storm damage.
In addition to responding to the outbreak of fires, rural fire brigades are often called to assist emergency service agencies during disasters such as floods and storms. Benjamin highlights the importance of team work as being a vital to safety.
“The most important thing I have learned would have to be team work, leadership and urgency when it is required. Having been a senior deputy captain, and now deputy captain, my goal is always to ensure the crew make it home to their families,” said Benjamin.
Dianne Cooke, Warringah Headquarters Brigade, Northern Beaches District
Fire Safety Trainer, Dianne Cooke juggles her full-time role at Wormald with active volunteering for both the SES and RFS. Her contributions include firefighting, driving front line fire trucks and logistic support vehicles including bulk water tankers. She also emphasises the importance of team work.
“As a team leader, you are balancing your own aims with those of your team members and the people you are trying to help. It’s really about working together to achieve the goals of both the team and the organisation that you are working for.”
During 20 years with the State Emergency Services (SES) in Queensland and NSW, Dianne had been providing logistical support to the local RFS, transporting food, equipment and personnel, before joining her local brigade as a volunteer. Dianne draws on her extensive skills and experience as a Fire Safety Trainer to educate other volunteer firefighters, as well as businesses about bushfire awareness, including the safety risks of working on roofs.
Adam Flannery, Lochinvar Rural Fire Service, NSW
It was the tragic events of 1994 that inspired Adam Flannery to join his local RFS in the Hunter region of NSW.
When bush fires devastated towns and communities from the Queensland border down to Batemans Bay on the south coast of New South Wales, four lives were lost, including a 42-year old mother and three volunteer firefighters in the line of duty. The fire event, and the Coronial inquest that followed, were the catalysts for forming the NSW Rural Fire Service and prompted many volunteers, including Adam, to join.
Adam has worked at Wormald since 2007, where he has balanced his role as a Portables Technician based in Newcastle with his responsibilities as an advanced firefighter. Like all volunteers, managing his time and other commitments to attend call outs is a constant challenge, but he values the team spirit of his local brigade.
Across Australia, rural and regional communities rely on local fire brigades. In Queensland the RFS has approximately 1500 rural fire brigades with 36,000 volunteers. Over 19,500 volunteers protect West Australia through fire prevention and risk management, fire suppression and fire safety education, while the volunteer-based South Australian Country Fire Services is 15,000 strong, including Wormald’s Te Whiti Baker.
Te Whiti Baker, Meadows Country Fire Service, South Australia
Wormald’s FST Supervisor Te Whiti Baker joined the Country Fire Service three years ago, after moving to Meadows in South Australia.
As a volunteer firefighter and training coordinator specialising in vehicle accident rescue, structural and rural fires, and fallen trees, Te Whiti is rewarded by using his skills to help his local community and beyond. This includes deployments to assist people in need in Victoria and more recently in NSW.
“It has made me more situationally aware after witnessing how lives can be changed in an instant. Never take anything for granted.”