"I don’t consider firefighting my job. To me, it is more of a passion project; something on the side that I absolutely adore getting to be a part of. It can be tough work. It is physically taxing traversing steep rocky hillsides, dragging hoses, and carrying rake hoes or a knapsack full of water on your back. Also attending fatal motor vehicle accidents takes a mental toll. On the other end of the spectrum nothing beats coaxing a cat down from a tree or freeing a wallaby stuck in a fence. I often come home completely exhausted, but feeling completely fulfilled.
"I have lived in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia my whole life. I decided to join the Rural Fire Service in year 11 when terrible fires burned through a coastal town nearby. The Cooranbong brigade is one of the most accepting of women and people from all walks of life. It is celebrated when we get an all-female crew working on the fire ground. But outside it’s very much a man’s world. I have been on the receiving end of sexist remarks and actions many times. While I am not one to be disheartened by such things, it can have a negative impact. The men from Cooranbong are always quick to step in and shut things down, and I’m grateful. When you spend hours upon hours with these people, you become like family, and that’s (what) I love most. We really are one big family, brought together by a common goal. "It truly has been a very long fire season here. Many of the fires started in August and it has been nonstop ever since. Fortunately, things have calmed down a little now. I mostly worked night shifts three hours drive away; either north to the 512,626 hectare Gosper’s Mountain fire, or south to Bargo in Sydney. Some nights I did property protection, extinguishing spot fires caused by traveling embers. Oftentimes things will be quiet for many hours, firefighters sit and wait, and then spring into action very quickly to save the property. Other times I was back burning, lighting fires to burn back towards the fire head, creating containment lines. This is often hot, slow work that requires lots of repositioning of trucks. Mopping up involves blackening out the edges and extinguishing problematic trees or logs that have caught fire. It is slow work, but very important to perform thoroughly.
I was very fortunate this season. I never once felt unsafe close to the fires, as I know that my training is sound and I have complete faith in my crew members. I was, however, on duty when two volunteer firefighters lost their lives when their truck struck a tree. This hit me pretty hard. It was a sombre reminder that the future is unpredictable, and no matter how well you train and prepare, accidents still happen. "One hundred percent of the active firefighters and administration at Cooranbong brigade are volunteering their time to protect our community. There are many brigades like this across Australia, where 90% of firefighters are volunteers. I am a casual shift worker in Disability Support, which means that I don’t have set hours for work. This allows me to take the time to join the firefighting efforts when my schedule is clear. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid, even though I’m putting time in on the fire ground. For me, it is not about the money in the slightest.
"This February marks five years of service for me. When I was a timid teenager, developing relationships with people who were unconditionally accepting was a turning point for me. I became more outgoing and alive. Being a firefighter taught me that I had skills I could count on, that my thoughts and feelings are valid -- people were willing to listen to what I had to say. I don’t know if it’s important for Adventists specifically to be firefighters; however, I would absolutely encourage it. It’s so incredibly rewarding. To all the women contemplating a riskier career, I encourage you to take the plunge. Have a support system, some friends or family who want to see you succeed. Be prepared to harness your courage and put yourself out there, and have faith that God will lead you to where you need to be. I believe that God knew what I needed, and provided it, and I am eternally grateful to Him for this life He has given me."