“It really hit home when a fire is that close. It’s like, ‘Well, I’m glad I joined, I’m glad I’m out there.’”
Troy Harris joined the Rural Fire Service partly as a way to teach himself how to defend his own bush property near Noosa, QLD, from bushfires. His instincts were right: one of his most memorable call-outs as a volunteer firefighter was to a large bushfire that tore through forested land just behind his property. The blaze, started by a car thief who set fire to a stolen vehicle, burnt close to his home for six days with crews working on rotation continuously throughout. He was as grateful as his neighbours were that the outcome wasn’t worse.
“The teamwork that is within the RFS and the skills that they hold down are amazing, but it’s also the relief that you see on people’s faces and the thanks that they give for saving their house, their property, their crops, their livestock. The gratitude that you get from people, it’s just very rewarding, very satisfying,” he says of his firefighting.
The father-of-two works for an interiors company and has worked his way through RFS ranks to the level of training officer. And while he has helped protect many thousands of people from fires in his region over the last decade, he has in recent months been forced to accept help of a very different kind after the discovery of the growth of a large tumour next to his brain.
“All of a sudden, I was getting some headaches and I went to see the doctor. They said they had to operate straight away, it’s really big.”
The tumour had become attached to his optic nerve and was beginning to affect his eyesight and cause dizzy spells as it put pressure on his brain. Without treatment, it was likely to cause serious disability for Troy, spelling an end to both his work and volunteering.
Through a massive crowdfunding effort coordinated by his cousin, he was able to raise the funds needed to be treated by eminent neurosurgeon, Dr Charlie Teo, in Sydney. He had surgery to remove the tumour in August and his recovery has been excellent, with initial tests showing the growth was not cancerous.
“Everything has been a great success. We didn’t expect to be going to Sydney until next year, I thought it was going to take over 12 months to raise the money, but we did it in four. I still can’t believe it,” he says.
“I’ve had really good support from the fire service, it’s taught me just how good the community is. My wife and I and my boys, we spent nights in tears just reading the stories on the funding page. It’s just amazing. I still get teary now about it.”
“All you hear on the news is negative and bad stuff, but there is so much good stuff going on out there that you don’t hear about. And I wish people could hear more about it and just how communities can pull together and get stuff done. I’m blown away by it.”
As his family breathe a sigh of relief over his health, Troy is raring to get back to firefighting. While he convalesces, he has been organising strike teams to attend to fires in northern Queensland.
“I just want to go up and help, it’s been killing me, sitting here and not being able to do anything! The regional manager said to me, ‘Look mate, you’re not allowed. We’re not going to let you come up.’”
This time, he’s listening, but generally, he rallies to get to fires and do what he can to help - with a little support from home.
“We’re all there for the same reason, we want to help protect the community and look out for people. It can be quite a big job out there sometimes and we couldn’t do it without the support from our families.”