We’ve all been devastated by the ongoing bushfire crisis on Australia’s east coast. As the fires continue, the country’s volunteer fire and rescue service continues to play a crucial role, descending on Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria to help the firefighting effort.
The scale of Volunteer Fire and Rescue is staggering, and often underestimated. It’s the biggest volunteer fire service in the world, with more than 70,000 members nationally, across 2,000 local brigades. And on many occasions, it’s these volunteers that are the first responders to scrub blazes, home fires and road accidents.
One of those stations is in Kalamunda. And Ken O’Reilly knows it well. Today he’s the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service WA Executive Officer. But nearly three decades ago, he first signed up as a volunteer at Kalamunda.
“I was 21 years old at the time and I’ve been involved ever since. It’s total volunteer here. We’re made up of 39 volunteers and we look after the entire Kalamunda area, which is consists of 30,000 dwellings and 6,000 people. We just had our 60th anniversary last year too. We turn out to all sorts of fires and incidents from road crash rescue, to property fires, to scrub fires and bushfires. We’d average around 150 to 200 calls a year. We’re on call 24/7.”
So in a time when we’re all busier than ever, who is it that puts up their hand to help out? And what is it that drives them to sign up, train and put their own safety at risk? Ken says there’s no one answer to that question, and it’s that diversity that adds to their tight-knit community.
“I don’t think there’s any one demographic that describes everybody that gets involved. We’ve got teachers, engineers, telco workers, gutter cleaners, FIFO workers, students, stay at home mums – it’s everyone. If we’ve got a volunteer firefighter for more than three years, then they will stay for life. They get involved, they get the training, and they feel part of it and they are in for life.
“We have Christmas parties, we have fundraisers and we’re heavily involved in community. Family is strong… we’ve had a 17 year old that’s just joined, and his father was a member so it’s in the blood.
“You’re part of the family and are welcome anywhere you go. You know that when that phone goes off, you know someone needs help.”
And over the last few months, that help has been needed on the east coast. Kalamunda has sent four volunteers to help fight the bushfires, joining others from all over the country.
“We had several taskforces that we were involved in. I was one of those that went over to Queensland fighting the fires. We were told we were there for mop up work, but there was much more to it than that. We spent the next five days, 15 hours a day helping the guys out there because they were just exhausted. The generosity of the Queensland people was amazing. At the end of the day, no one let you buy a beer. The locals were quick to shout you to say thanks.”
And ALBY is proud to shout the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service WA as well. The Service is the January recipient of the $1000 Alby Made Community Arts grant. The funds will be used for much needed equipment and gear at local stations.