GET READY: New truck, fresh start for fire crew
THE chances are that multiple people in the Clarence Valley contributed to the record breaking $51.3 million raised in January by comedian Celeste Barber for the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund.
Some of that funding has now found its way back to the Clarence, with the Ulmarra RFS Brigade now benefiting from some practical additions.
"We received $10,000 funding from the public donations, from the comedian," Ulmarra RFS captain John Crean said.
The funding, together with contributions from the community, has resulted in electric roller doors installed last month, a freshly painted office, 24 lockers, a tablet for each truck for mapping purposes, and safety lights to increase visibility of crew members.
The safety lights will be particularly useful when assisting at road incidents - not uncommon for the brigade located along a known blackspot of the old Pacific Highway, now known as the Big River Way.
"I've been close to runover a couple of times," Mr Crean said.
"One time we had a minister visit to look at the highway near my place and a truck cut the corner. I had to grab him and push him out of the way."
It was a fatal crash outside his home in April 2013, when he witnessed a crash victim take his last breath, that prompted Mr Crean to join the RFS.
"The SES and RFS attended. I had lot of time on my hands now I was retired, and it was something I could do to help the community out."
Now the brigade captain, like most RFS volunteers, he experienced a season unlike any other in 2019/20.
"I'm still recovering I think," he said.
"Probably the worst night out there was when we were at Fineflower and that was when Nymboida went up.
"We heard the chatter on the radio and really thought we were going to lose people, and the worse thing was there was nothing we could do.
"Last season my crew did 47 minimum 12-hour shifts and two of my guys did another 40 shifts with Tucabia. A total of 3000 man hours from about 10 active volunteers."
Ulmarra RFS has since gained four new volunteers, but lost three of its younger members who have moved away, including Dayna Wood and Laynae Okkonen, who were both featured in The Daily Examiner's Unsung Heroes of the RFS series.
Mr Crean, who is 67, said it was important to encourage young people to be involved in volunteer organisations such as the RFS.
"The average age of the RFS is about 54," he said.
"We really need these young ones, and to get them through to crew leader status so then the captains don't need to go to every event. Old fellas like me get time to recover."
This Saturday (August 8) the Ulmarra brigade is inviting the community to drop in between 10am and 2pm for its Get Ready Weekend.
People will also be able to check out the brigade's new Cat 11 Pumper and all the upgraded equipment.
"It's sort of like a town brigade vehicle, called a pumper, suitable for looking after the village and the jail," Mr Crean said.
"There's not a lot of off road capabilities, but there's not a lot of bush to look after here."
Mr Crean said the brigade is also expecting another new truck within the next two years to replace the existing truck, which is almost 30 years old.
While COVID-19 has put a halt on regular RFS training during the autumn and winter months, Mr Crean said the brigade was hoping to ramp up activities by September.
While conditions are not nearly as dire as this time last year, Mr Crean stressed conditions can change very quickly over summer.
"Instead of fire season starting in July, we're looking at three or four months and a lot more fuel," he said. "If there's a lot of hot, dry weather we could be in the same predicament."