Tathra RFS benefits as 8 000 new recruits join New South Wales Rural Fire Service after last season's fires
If summer brings its blazing fury to New South Wales again in the coming weeks, it will be met with a freshly fortified Rural Fire Service, strengthened by an extra 8 000 volunteers ready to fight fires across the state. And with predictions of an increased risk of grassfires over summer, more seasoned volunteers are breathing a collective sigh of relief that so many others have stepped up to offer their help after last summer's devastating inferno. It was the horror of last season's fires that spurred so many to join the RFS in the single largest yearly intake of volunteers in the service's history. "There was no question after last summer that I wouldn't sign up," said Melinda Renwick, one of 20 new recruits at the Tathra Brigade on the NSW Far South Coast. "I was just waiting to see when they wanted to take on new members because they had so much stuff on over summer." Mother-daughter duo, Katrina and Jade Hansen, signed up as a family. "Me and Dad, we really wanted to sign up and be able to protect ourselves and the rest of the family. And then we kind of made mum do it," Jade said. "It was comforting. We were all learning together, and we really became part of a team." The fresh faces are a welcome relief for Tathra RFS captain Adam Wiggins. "It just lightens the load. We have more resources, more crews, we can turn the crews over. We're not always relying on the same people over and over again," he said. "I think people just want to help ... a couple of them want to develop those skills so they're not so scared of fire as well."
Biggest intake in history
The NSW RFS said of the 35 000 enquiries it received from people interested in volunteering from July 2019 to mid-2020, 8 000 went on to become trained volunteers. It now has more than 76 000 volunteer fire fighters to call on if needed.
The Far South Coast RFS has welcomed 230 new recruits, spread across the 57 brigades located within the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley shires. Despite the boost in membership, it was noticeable that many didn't follow through with their initial interest.
"It's a little bit like getting a puppy for Christmas," said Marty Webster, Far South Coast RFS's community safety officer. "We actually need that long-term commitment, not just that initial rush of enthusiasm," he said.
Crews are on alert for an increased risk of grassfires this season, following widespread heavy rainfall, which caused significant grass growth across the region. When long grass dries out it can become a major fire hazard with the potential to lead to widespread grassfires. But the combination of increased rainfall and new volunteers has put more seasoned RFS members at ease.
"I'm sure that sigh of relief is audible," Webster said. "You can hear it everywhere you go … everyone was really fatigued, and still are, from last summer. If we do get fires much later in the season, we'll be dealing with it with much fresher crews than what we had last year."
While many will be facing their first season as a volunteer fire fighter, others are still counting down the days to sign up. Jorjah Drysdale was 14 when she helped defend her aunty's property at Bimbimbie near Mogo on New Year's Eve last year. It was a life-changing experience for the now 15-year-old, who has her sights set on becoming a volunteer fire fighter on her 16th birthday next year. "I was a little bit scared at the time, because it was just horrendous, the state of the place," Jorjah said. "I'm just inspired by people. I want to help out and I want to do things for the community."
Source: ABC News