Forever Grateful for our Firies
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
By Marina Knijnik
I was driving to the supermarket with my mum the other day, the smoke hanging thick around the car, when a fire truck drove silently past us. My mum turned to me and said, “You know, I’ve never been a fan of having heroes, role models, or obsessing over someone, but gosh, these firefighters sure have become my heroes”.
The next couple of days were followed by more smoke, by more “unprecedented fires” and by more destruction. The whole country stares in horror, unsure of what our summer, which has only just begun, will hold.
Everyday, I wake up, check my Facebook and see the RFS’s (Rural Fire Service) new post “At 8:30 am there are 106 bushfires and grass fires continuing to burn across NSW, with 57 not yet contained”. Everyday, more and more of our precious country burns. And yet, more than 2, 700 brave people are out there, amongst the flames, fighting to save our home.
In New South Wales there are two fire services; Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS).
Fire and Rescue NSW is staffed by around 7, 000 paid firefighters and handles metropolitan areas with 335 fire stations in cities and towns across the state.
And the NSW RFS provides fire protection to approximately 95% of NSW’s landmasses. It’s mostly volunteer-run, with 72, 491 volunteers and 911 paid staff.
So many of the firefighters, the ones we see in photos and on the news, containing these fires are volunteers. A lot of them are out there on the front lines and many others are working behind the scenes to keep us safe. They risk their lives and their health. They take time off their jobs, they leave their homes and their families. Imagine risking all of that, to do something you’re not even being paid to do. Australia will always be eternally grateful towards them.
So you’d think that our government, Scott Morrison would be doing everything to support these extraordinary warriors. However, this is far from the truth…
Since the beginning of this terrible fire season, Mr. Morrison has time and time again completely and utterly failed to support our firefighters. On the 20th of November, he tweeted “Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer for”. Then on Tuesday the 10th of December, he rejected claims that volunteer firefighters should be professionalised and paid.
"We are constantly looking at ways we can better facilitate the volunteer effort but to professionalise that, at that scale, is not a matter that has previously been accepted and is not a matter that's currently under consideration by the government," he said.
The RFS, is in fact stretched so thin that some brigades have started crowdfunding for food, water and masks. However, Mr. Morrison did not address this issue, instead saying that these volunteer firefighters “want to be there”.
“And the fact is these crews, yes, they’re tired, but they also want to be out there defending their communities”.
This comment sparked outrage amongst the firefighting community. April Atteridge, daughter and granddaughter of volunteer firefighters, said “They want to make sure no one dies, it’s not fun, it’s not a leisure activity – they care more than the one man that is supposed to be looking after us, that’s why they’re out there...They gain nothing from it, if anything they gain mental scars and trauma that affects their sleep 10 years later.”
Meg Mcowan, whose husband (Graham) volunteers as a firefighter, wrote a blog post "No, Scott Morrison, my husband does NOT want to be fighting fires this summer!" which has now gone viral.
“Today the Prime Minister was quoted as saying the volunteers “want to be there” and it made me really angry. Does he honestly think that this is how we want to spend our summer? With Graham away every other day fighting fires, and sleeping or resting on the days in between? We have no idea how many days or weeks this will last. As the Prime Minister uses public money to jet off and have dinner with the Murdochs does he appreciate what it’s like to watch my husband walk in the door again and again with soot all over him and a flimsy disposable face mask between his precious lungs and the toxic smoke?”
What my mum said could not have been closer to the truth. These firefighters are my heroes, they’re Australia’s silent, yet most important heroes. And they need, they deserve the government’s support as they’re saving thousands of lives and homes everyday. They put Australia’s population before themselves and the government could very well take a leaf out of their books and attempt, for once, to do the same.
“And then I hear those who are supposed to lead our communities say that we don’t deserve the best equipment and that we don’t need financial support, and I feel like walking away. But I don’t, because I know that if I did, then just like Nero, our leaders would let us burn.”- Unknown
Donate to RFS or support your local brigade: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/support-your-local-brigade
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.