The Black Summer bushfires left an indelible mark on our nation. Amidst the tragedy and the loss came the heroes who would stop at nothing, all in the name of Help. 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 or to embrace a stranger, as though it was family. Fires, Floods, Storms and now a pandemic - perhaps the question we should be asking is -how can we really help the helpers? Jackson Brown is a 38-year-old Jervis Bay local, he’s a truckie, a new dad and a volunteer for the Wreck Bay Fire Brigade for the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS). This year, his mob, a group of largely Indigenous locals found themselves front and centre of one of the fiercest blazes they’d ever experienced. He is one of thousands of Australians who put their ordinary lives on hold, to battle the nation's raging fire crisis.
Q: What made you join the RFS?
“In a household of six kids, mum and dad taught us to look after family and country and to always help others. I grew up in a proud aboriginal community and Wreck Bay would have been the first all-indigenous brigade from the late '80s, early '90s. I was 16 when I joined. We currently have over 30 members and they all primarily work around Booderee National Park. We don’t seek recognition for being indigenous, but it’s about closing the gap and it’s good to break stereotypes.”
Q: What is it about helping others that makes you put yourself in dangerous situations?
“I’m a Yuin man, from the Yuin nation. I feel complete when I give back and help others. It gives me a sense of pride in my community and in myself to hear people say, ‘Thank you for your help today, brother. I really appreciate it.’ Having Wreck Bay on the side of our trucks and on our uniforms, it makes our community proud that we’re actually getting out there and give something positive back”
Q: Tell us about your experience this Summer?
“We’ve battled some of the toughest fires along Yuin Country, but this season was like nothing else. The weather patterns were different. Dry winds no moisture. Then on New Year’s Eve all hell broke loose. I was sitting in the fire truck down at the station waiting for crew members to show up, and I could hear the cries for help on the radio. It was non-stop. You could hear other operations happening everywhere, all over the place. So, we responded first to Nowra, it was like Armageddon, smoke column after smoke column just popping up heading towards the coast. So pretty much we were on the defence straight away. We battled from the top end of the Shoalhaven down to the south towards Ulladulla. It was just like a bomb, and patches were just going off. Lake Conjola went up in smoke. I've never seen anything like it. But the despair on people's faces, the look that they give you: "Oh, thank God you're here," type of look and you just hope you can help. Sometimes we did but sometimes it was just bigger than us”
Q: When you’re called to danger what goes through your mind?
“At the end of the day, when we go out on the truck, we've got to look after one another and that's our main priority, is to protect life, whether it be people in the public or our own lives. You can replace houses, but you can't replace people. The physical challenge is a bit hard some days. But mentally, you've got to be, grounded, in the sense of you've got a job at hand. You make sure you do this thing right, that way you get home safely, and that's what we aim to do.”
Q: What are you doing when you’re not helping the community?
“I’m just a regular guy. I’m a truckie 5 days a week and I come home on weekends. My fiancé is also a volunteer with the brigade, and we have a 2-year-old little girl. We take turns to do shifts “
Q: What can we all do better to help the helpers?
“You've got to have your property well-prepared for bush fires, way before the fire season comes around, and that's what the RFS wants you to do. We want you to go around, clear your gardens, clear the clutter and the junk away from your yard, away from the buildings and everything else. Prepare your yard. If flames are going to be impacting the yard, move your gas bottles away and disconnect solar panels. Know when to stay and know when to go. People need to read country, that's what they need to do: Know when to burn, where to burn, and how to burn. It’s time to listen to community elders when dealing with cultural burning. “
For all the days we felt we couldn’t help them, Now there’s a day we can. Let’s dedicate the First Saturday of every month to protecting First responders by doing one task to make our homes safer.
It’s not a chore. It’s Help.
To find out more visit www.nrma.com.au/firstsaturday.