From flood to drought to fire. The emergency services in this region have been under unprecedented pressure in recent years as the ageing volunteer base struggled to keep people on the ground to support communities over the last few years.
The last fire season was devastating. Preceded by floods, then drought the devastating fires left communities reeling as people lost their homes and lives. Many left the countryside for towns in fear of the fires and have decided not to return.
‘We had all the resources we could on the ground including Fire and Rescue NSW, forestry, National Parks, SES (State Emergency Services) and the police. But many of us were still doing 20 hour shifts regularly,’ said NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), Group Commander, Bob Graham.
‘During the fires last year we were stretched really thin.’
So while it is with great relief that following the last fire season he has seen a large increase in people wanting to volunteer for the local RFS brigades he said it has been a struggle to get new recruits trained and accredited because of the COVID-19 crisis.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has left a big hole in training,’ he said.
With the ageing volunteer base of the RFS they were quick to cancel training and accreditation sessions. It wasn’t until six weeks ago that training for new recruits was allowed to re-start under strict COVID guidelines. General training has still not started back up for accredited RFS members.
However, since the new training and accreditation measures have been in place for new recruits Mr Graham says there has been strong engagement.
On Wednesday Main Arm Fire Brigade welcomed another seven members when they passed their accreditation. This followed a six week program of twice weekly training for the group with another two recruits going through their accreditation on Sunday. Of the seven new members who passed their accreditation five of them were women.
‘I’m really proud to be joining the brigade,’ said new recruit Estelle Scmitt.
Other brigades have also seen new recruits being brought on board with the Byron Bay Brigade having 18 new members and there are nine new members for Cudgen who all recently passed their accreditation. There are another 18 new recruits at the Federal–Goonengerry Brigade and another 10 from a range of other brigades almost ready to take their accreditation test.
‘It is unprecedented to have this many people training and becoming accredited,’ said Mr Graham.
‘We might not have fires like last years again this year but we will again in another couple of years.’
Ocean Shores, Yelgun, Pocket and Billinudgel
One local brigade who is looking for new recruits to train is the Billinudgel–Ocean Shores Brigade that covers Ocean Shores, Yelgun, The Pocket and Billinudgel.
‘They are looking for new member to join up and train with them so that they can remain responsive to local incidents and their local community,’ said Mr Graham.
They have a fire shed in Billinudgel with two trucks and are keen to get members joining up from their area.
‘It is a great opportunity for people to get involved in their local community and meet new people. It also gives them the opportunity to understand how fire could potentially impact them whether they are in a built up areas like Ocean Shores and South Golden Beach or more rural areas like The Pocket,’ said Mr Graham.
To join the RFS either drop into your local fire brigade shed or apply online via the RFS website.