Community Champion: More Than Just a Firefighter

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It is often easy to forget that our emergency service volunteers, like the NSW Rural Fire Service can be called out to do more than just put out a fire.

In rural and regional areas services like the NSW RFS attend more than just bush fires, they are called out to car accidents and medical emergencies as well.

Graham Holland, Captain of the Cooks Gap Brigade, has been a member for 15 years and he has definitely seen more than just bushfires.

“One of the fire calls that we got earlier this year was an ‘assist ambulance’. I went and it wasn’t really an assist ambulance, it was to be the ambulance because it was still a few minutes away.

“This was for a person who had had a heart attack, so it was a case of administering CPR and using the defibrillator. Unfortunately, I couldn’t save him.”

That’s just one example.

Over Graham’s time at Cooks Gap, he has worked his way up through the ranks to Senior Deputy, and 14 months ago was given the job of Captain.

He has seen a lot of change over the years.

“Back 15 years ago we had to do fundraising to help pay for a fire truck and now the service supplies almost everything that we need which is absolutely fantastic because we shouldn’t have to be flipping sausages to get that.”

He has been to countless incidents over the years and said the best feeling is always when you’ve been able to help someone, or even save their life. But there’s plenty of dark moments too.

“I see the pager go off and I see that it’s a motor vehicle accident and I just hope it’s not something serious. Fatal accidents are the things you just can’t prepare for. It is the darker side of what we do so weirdly enough we prefer to go to more dangerous things like a bushfire,” Graham said.

“In the last section 44 fire I rocked up to a property and the guy who was renting was there.

“I told him, ‘I hope your plan is to leave’ and he said, ‘no I want to stay and defend it’, but I could see he was having trouble breathing.

“I saw a caravan and asked him if it was his, and then asked him if the car I saw was his. I told him to hook it up and get out of here and I would make sure his house was still there when he returned. He didn’t want to go, but he was a bigger risk to himself being there.

“The fire came through and we lost a shed but the house and everything else was still there. We saved his life, I have no doubt.”

The Cooks Gap Brigade does a lot of community engagement and training with their crew of about 30 active members and 100 firefighters who are on the books at any one time.

“We’ll run door knocks, visit people and explain fire danger, preparations that they may need to do around the house and make sure they have a bush fire survival plan they are practicing and ensure it involves everybody in the household.

“We also make sure that people are aware that even if your plan is to leave early, you still need to have a stay and defend plan because on a warm day a fire can start up two properties over and be on top of you before you can leave.

“Within our own district we often go off to Section 44 fires, they are the bigger fires.

“Most of those large fires, when they are in their initial stages you can’t see very far in front of you. You can literally put your hand up in front of your face and not see it. It’s scary, very hot and very noisy and you explain it to people and they’re like ‘oh yeah righto’, but people never think it’s going to be as bad as it is.”

Telling a new firefighter about those kinds of intense fires is difficult. Being in one for the first time is even harder.

“The first time that you’re actually in it is a bit of a ‘why am I actually here, what am I doing here, there must be a better way than this!’ You rely on the people you’re with, you have a great trust with your fellow firefighters on the truck. But there’s nothing quite like it when you save someone’s house when there’s black all around it and it’s standing there in the middle of nowhere.”

Graham said their new recruits don’t go on a truck heading into that kind of danger when they start, instead they cut their teeth on hazard reduction burns and smaller fires. When they are sent out to larger fires they’re buddied up with a more experienced firefighter.

Graham couldn’t speak more highly of the support they get from their District office who help them with everything they need, and make sure broken down trucks and equipment get fixed very quickly when needed.

To Graham and all the other firefighters who put their lives on the line to save others, you are all champions.

The NSW RFS is always taking on new volunteers, more information:

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