RSB Bushfire fighters and ACT Citizens of the Year

10 March 2020

Thank you to our RSB Bushfire fighters and our ACT Citizens of the Year!

This summer, Canberra and the ANU community, were threatened by extreme bushfires which resulted in a third (90000 hectares) of the Australian Capital Territory being burnt.  In recognition of their commitment, the Bushfire fighters who protected Canberra from this years unprecedented fires have been honoured with the ACT’s highest accolade “Canberra Citizens of the Year”.

Four of our in-house bushfire fighters were active volunteers this summer in Canberra and New South Wales. RSB would like to thank them for their collective effort and congratulate those in local ACT brigades who were honoured as ACT Citizens of the year. The 2020 ACT Citizen of the Year Award is a significant honour in recognition of their outstanding efforts and cooperation in responding to the unprecedented conditions experienced during the summer of 2019-2020. It reflects how proud Canberrans are of the bravery and commitment fire fighters have shown in serving their community.

Corin Pennock (RSB technical services team) has been a bushfire fighter for 2.5 years in the ACT Southern brigade. Her  RFS shed is based in Tharwa, and they cover most of Namadji and surrounding areas. Corins father has been a member of the southern brigade for over 20 years, and she grew up around the Rural Fire Service (RFS) community. “I remember a lot of summers playing around Tharwa shops and the southern brigade shed catching frogs and lizards while my father was working in the brigade shed. I love volunteering and I have a great love for the bush, I thought this would be a great way to learn more about how fire plays an important role in the environment.” When asked to look back on this years hot summer Corin reflects “The bush was already struggling from an unusually long dry period so we had been making preparations for the summer for a while now.  We knew it was not a matter of if but ‘when’ a fire would occur.  Thankfully some rain has now come through and the land can start to naturally recover.  It is wonderful to see the native animals return to the areas that were impacted by fires.” Corin is proud to be part of such a wonderful brigade, “we look out for each other and support each other”.

Tony Xu (EE, Mikheyev group) has been in the ACT RFS Hall Brigade for 2 years, and this was his first year as a fire fighter. When asked why he is a fire fighter: “Firefighting is an opportunity to help the community in a very visceral, direct way. In very few other occasions do you have the privilege of being entrusted with someone’s houses and livelihoods. On a similar note, the community of volunteer firefighters within the ACT and NSW RFS are composed of the most exceptional people that make the firefighting community like a second family.”

Tony’s Reflections on this year’s hot summer: “For me, it’s been a very long season starting in September 2019, and only finishing around the start of February. I would like to think that our brigade has contributed significantly towards both the ACT’s and the broader regional firefighting effort. Whilst many people are thankful for volunteer help, for myself, and I’m sure for most volunteers, none of it would be possible without people supporting me. This includes my family, Sasha Mikheyev and the whole lab, friends who cooked me food on days when I got home late, and even my landlord. Similarly, everyone who has been dropping food and donating money towards Hall Brigade, and the broader firefighting effort has made a difficult time that much better.”

Matt Mortimer (PS, Pogson group) is in the ACT Gungahlin Brigade and has worked as a bushfire fighter for 4 years. Matt joined the RFS because he wanted to volunteer while doing something physically challenging outdoors. For Matt it has been brilliant for providing a change of pace to academia and a good way to reset. Matt reflects: “My season started in early October when I was deployed in a team to Queensland to battle a fire in a rainforest - where fires shouldn’t burn; homes had already been lost and an old growth rainforest was on fire. Two particularly hard moments in the season were finding out that homes we had been working to protect near Adaminaby ended up burning after we had been recalled to Canberra, and another was being on the first fire truck to venture into the heart of Namadgi after the fire had ripped through and seeing normally solitary wildlife huddling together on the road without food or shelter. The fires showed yet again how well resourced Canberra is with firefighting capabilities; while we were busy many NSW and Queensland RFS, and Victorian CFS brigades were run ragged battling blazes for weeks on end with little help available.”

Tim Butler (Compliance Services team) has been in the Wallaroo RFS brigade in New South Wales for 5 years. Tims Brigade is the primary emergency response agency for the Wallaroo region (the area to the North West of the ACT on either side of the Braidwood Highway as you go towards Yass). When asked why he does it, Tim replied: “Firstly it’s great fun, you get to meet all sorts of different people from Farmers to Company CEO’s. I also saw it as a great opportunity to develop new skills and gain important leadership and teamwork skills. It is also a great honour to be helping complete strangers in their time of greatest need.” Tims brigade are regularly called out to shed fires, motor vehicle accidents and of course bushfires. Over his time in the RFS he has gained experience in fire fighting, property protection, and recently crew leadership.

I asked Tim for his reflections on this years hot summer: “Prior to the fire season, we were receiving information from the RFS that this season was going to be very hot and dry. By the time we got to September, it was clear that these predictions were going to come true and that we were going to see fires all the way down the coast as the weather heated up. The sheer scale and unpredictability of the fire season was unprecedented. My brigade spent a total of 5570 person-hours on fire grounds everywhere from Glenn Innes to Pialigo.”

Tim would also like to thank the general public: “The other thing that really stood out was the stunning generosity of the general public. Everywhere I went there was an endless supply of snacks and it just kept coming. Our brigade also received a large donation of respirators and cooling neckties. So to all those that donated their time and money to help the RFS I thank you, it is hugely appreciated.”