Our firies are burning the candle at both ends

NSW RFS Barrington 9 crew patrolling fire on the Thunderbolts Way on January 5. Photo supplied.
NSW RFS Barrington 9 crew patrolling fire on the Thunderbolts Way on January 5. Photo supplied.

Barrington Rural Fire brigade may be a bit small in numbers compared to some, but it's packed full of dedication and community spirit, according to its captain, Katrina Rendell.

"Many of our members are employed during the week so it is our 'retired' members who are available day after day, week in week out, with our 'workers' lending a hand when they can," Katrina explained.

"The fires locally have put a strain on all brigade members over the last four months. Making plans, family time/celebrations have all come to nothing as we front up to face each new threat as it occurs."

And the long hours away from home also take a toll, Katrina added.

"It's been pretty much non-stop this season. Just when you think you've got a handle on things, that the fire is 'doing the right thing', off it goes again. It's disheartening to fight the same fire for weeks or months on end," she said.

Such is the reality for a volunteer member of the NSW Rural Fire Service, many of whom live in the region they work tirelessly to protect.

Unlike the NSW Fire and Rescue firefighters who are paid a retainer for their service, NSW RFS members who fight fires are volunteers. In fact, you'll find that most people involved in the RFS are volunteers. It's a similar set up with the NSW State Emergency Service (SES), where it's a group of people volunteering to protect, support and take care of their community.

A lucky escape for the NSW RFS Barrington brigade with no one injured. Photo supplied

A lucky escape for the NSW RFS Barrington brigade with no one injured. Photo supplied

It's a balancing act between work, family and serving the community, and this fire season, for some, they've been burning the candle at both ends. The call-outs to fires have been steady since the fire season kicked up early. Fires flared up on the coast in August, with crews from everywhere nearby called out to give a hand.

"We have been fortunate that we have escaped relatively unscathed," Katrina said. "We venture into many places where most wouldn't; mostly just when people are choosing to leave."

Katrina said that people often ask them is they get scared when they head into a fire.

"No, not scared, but we have a healthy respect for fire and we don't go into something, without a way back or two, and a safety refuge. It's only when that way back gets cut off that people come to grief," she explained.

According to Katrina, the most annoying thing is that some fires are deliberately lit.

Crews attended the fire at Giro. Photo supplied

Crews attended the fire at Giro. Photo supplied

"This season, the way things are, it doesn't really matter whether it is a 'well-meaning' fire on someone's property because they've always done it to get rid of the rubbish, or someone seizes the opportunity when they see smoke around, and thinks we won't notice at bit of 'extra' with everything going on around, or anyone who thinks it's funny," Katrina said.

"The results are the same as the poor sod who is just innocently mowing or running a tractor over their paddock and hits a rock which causes a spark and off it goes. We can sympathise with them, as they're usually very apologetic and amazed at what a small spark can do."

At the end of the day, the brigade's ability to safely protect the community from bushfire relies heavily on the support the community, whether it be through people willing to volunteer or providing a financial donation.

"We are amazed at the support we've had from the general public," Katrina said. "The stores and general public have been very generous with donated goods.

"We are, for the most part, well equipped. We are supplied with up to date equipment and our needs are catered for in the way of meals and drinking water," she said.

Sparks fly at the Giro fire.

Sparks fly at the Giro fire.

During this recent bushfire crisis, it's been reported in the media that the NSW RFS brigades are, for the most part, self funded, meaning they need to fundraise for equipment and supplies, however, this isn't necessarily the case. The NSW Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA) has a grant scheme to help brigades improve the level of equipment, training and welfare of their members with grants of up to $5000 or up to $25,00 open for application year round.

Barrington is hoping to extend its station to include its own amenities, for which it's need to apply for grant funding to help cover the cost.

"At present, the toilets are shared with the public and those who hire the community hall, next door. We have no change room, showers or clothes washing facilities and our kitchen has passed its use by date," Katrina said. "We will be looking at buying a washing machine, storage cupboards etc. It was decided recently, due to the drought, to add a rainwater tank to our wish list."

The brigade is current waiting for approval from MidCoast Council for the extension.