The Black Summer bushfires left an indelible mark on our nation. Amidst the tragedy and loss came the heroes who helped. So, what inspires someone to volunteer, to risk their own life to defend the homes and lives of people whose names they don’t even know? Perhaps the question we should be asking is -what can we do to help? Edwina Illman is a volunteer with the NSW Rural fire Service, Sutherland Shire. This year, she risked her life to protect ours.
Q: What made you join the RFS?
“My brother and I were adopted from the Philippines. My parents helped change our lives- so growing up, helping others was part of our culture. I remember seeing the fires as a kid and seeing people who’d lost everything, and I just felt so helpless. I guess it stuck with me. I started volunteering with the SES and RFS in my teens, then after university, I joined Sutherland Shire, Heathcote.”
Q: What is it about helping others, that makes you put yourself in dangerous situations?
“I don’t really think about it as danger, it’s about helping others and I do it because I can. The instinct to help is a powerful one. There are plenty of people who weren’t fire fighters this Summer who ran to danger, to help others. It just switches on. It’s human nature. I believe, if you’re in a position to do something to help – you should.”
Q: Tell us about your experience this Summer?
“The scale was unimaginable. When your captain says he’s never seen this in 30 years, you know this is big. I started in Queensland in September 2019, then Tenterfield, NSW and the fires seemed .to escalate with each deployment. In Batemans Bay, trucks were scrambling. The emotion came when we saw people who had lost everything, but were still trying to help others. Kids washing our windows, offering us fruit and then a guard of honour as we drove through a town. Can you imagine that? Thanking us, while their town burns.”
Q: What’s life like when you’re not working as a first responder?
“My partner is a policewoman and we are the proudest parents of a three-year-old. I work as a climb leader at Bridge Climb in Sydney. I’m passionate about footy, my city and this country. Not a day goes by where I take it for granted.”
What’s the one thing that we can all do to help be more prepared?
“Fire blankets are a great start, especially since people are spending more time at home and older kids are moving back in. Kitchen and electric fires happen more often than you think. Ahead of bushfire season, you can never be over-prepared. Have a plan. Get to know your community. Follow RFS advice and stay close to the news. “
For all the days we felt we couldn’t help them, now there’s a day we can. By dedicating the First Saturday of every month, we can protect our first responders by doing one task. Over 85% of homes don’t own a fire blanket. This First Saturday, September 5, make your home fire ready by getting a fire blanket. If we all do it, together, we can help prevent first responders being called to danger.
It's not a chore. It’s help.