Hallidays Point resident Ronald Smith was only 14 years old when he joined the Oakville Bush Fire Brigade (near Windsor) in 1956, and hasn’t stopped fighting fires since.
For his long and committed service volunteering for the NSW Rural Fire Service, Ron was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal on the Australia Day 2018 Honours List.
The award continues a family tradition. His brother, Sidney (Lionel) Smith was awarded the AFSM in 1991. Lionel developed the foam proportioning system now used by all NSW RFS brigades and is still a deputy captain.
“I followed in the footsteps of my father and brother. My brother has been in it a lot longer than I have. He’s still going and he’s 88. And he’s been in it over 70 years,” Ron said.
Joining the Oakville brigade at such a young age was probably a foregone conclusion for Ron, given the fire shed was on the family property, and his father and elder brother were already members.
Back then, it was Ron’s job to turn on the air raid siren attached to the shed when the fire calls came through, and he got to drive a T-model Ford to fight the fires.
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When Ron moved to Kenthurst in 1977 he joined the Kenthurst brigade. During his tenure there he held the positions of deputy captain, senior deputy captain, captain, and president. In 1992 he resigned his position of senior deputy captain and was elected deputy group captain, a position he held for eight years.
Before moving to Diamond Beach in 2004, Ron and his wife, Lyn, travelled around Australia for 12 months, but even during this “break” Ron did not completely take leave from the service.
“We were in Perth. We came back to Sydney for our first grandchild being born and he went to a fire in Warringah on Christmas Day when we were back!” Lyn said.
“He got a certificate for travelling the longest distance to fight a fire.”
Ron, or course, immediately joined the local brigade in Diamond Beach the moment he moved to the area, and has been a member ever since. He was elected to the senior deputy captain position after being there a short time. He then held the deputy group captain position until about 2013, when he went back to being deputy captain.
“In 2017 we had a bit of a change in the brigade and then I got moved up to senior deputy captain, which I still hold,” Ron said.
He is also president of the Diamond Beach brigade.
As with any emergency service dealing with people’s lives, there is a dark side to volunteering for the RFS. Ron has been required to attend fatalities in the past, with motor vehicle accidents being the worst.
“I always dreaded the first one I’d ever have to go to,” Ron said.
“It was one morning about 5 o’clock in the middle of winter and I got this call and got down there and there was a vehicle that had skidded off the road and had hit a telegraph pole. The driver was just sitting there behind the wheel, stone dead.
“NSW Fire Brigades (now Fire and Rescue), attended for the rescue part and we had to assist. They had to cut the roof off this vehicle to get the driver out, but what they didn’t realise was that he had a passenger, and they found her in the back, wrapped around the pole.
“That was my first experience of an MVA.
“Everything with those accidents is still clear in my mind, exactly. It’s something you never forget, unfortunately,” Ron said.
Everything with those couple of accidents is still clear in mind, exactly. It’s something you never forget, unfortunately.Ronald Smith
Obviously, there is something about volunteering for the RFS that far outweighs those horrific incidents for Ron, or else he would not continue to do it.
“I enjoy the camaraderie, and make new friends, and you strike people from all walks of life. We’ve had doctors, we’ve had a judge as a member, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, you name it,” he said.
He’s seen a lot of changes in his time, from a dramatic increase in available equipment (from wearing knapsacks to being up in a helicopter), and an even bigger increase in bureaucracy and paperwork.
He has trained recruits who have risen the ranks of the service.
“Over the years, I liked to try and pass on the knowledge to new volunteers, rather than go into a lot of other areas, which I could have. I’ve got members of my old brigade at Kenthurst who started there and have moved on. One of them is now one of the Deputy Commissioners. There’s a couple of other people who work at headquarters,” Ron said.
Ron has no plans for leaving the RFS fold any time soon. While he still fights fires locally, he has cut back – a little.
“I’ve given up going out of the area, it’s too hard work, because it’s a 12 hour shift, or more, when you go out of the area,” Ron said.
“I don’t live for it, but I like to be still involved, and I’ll do it as long as I can. Hopefully I’ll catch up with my brother!”