The unsung heroes of Australia fire crisis

The unsung heroes of Australian Fire Crisis
The unpaid volunteers are the heroes of severe bushfire fire crisis. Source: DANIEL KNOX/ANDREW O'DWYER
5 Min Read

Daily US Times, New South Wlaes: The person you see above is Daniel Knox. This photo was taken after a 15-hours shift of his working amid Australian fire crisis.

You can get the intensity of the massive fire around him as well as his passion for stopping it and saving his country people.

‘We’re doing it because it’s a passion. It’s a brotherhood,’ says Daniel Knox.

Knox is one of the thousands of Australians who have left their normal lives aside to fight one of the country’s biggest fire crisis. For the last few weeks, he has lived around his phone so that he could instantly response when he is needed.

Knox is a part of New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) which branded itself as ‘the world’s largest volunteer firefighting organisation’. Most of its 70,000 members are unpaid except some senior staffs, but all of the members are extensively trained.

Entering his local brigade at an early age of 17, Knox bonded with a senior member Andrew O’Dwyer, whom he called ‘brother’. O’Dwyer later took Knox under his wing and helped so much.

But last Thursday Mr O’Dwyer died while fighting with fires along with Geoffrey Keaton, the deputy captain at the Horsley Park Fire Brigade.

Both were sent out at late night to fight a massive fire. On the way, their truck was hit by a falling tree. The three-person sitting in the backside of the truck was able to escape. But the two died on the scene just five days before Christmas.

Both fathers to young children.

Volunteer firefighters Andrew O’Dwyer (left) and Geoffrey Keaton were both fathers to young children. Source: NSW RFS

How the fire crisis unfolds

The fire has broken out in September. Since then, it gives no signal of stopping. In the early days of the fire, close to 3,000 firefighters have been out every day in New South Wales blazes.

Close to 90% of these firefighters are unpaid volunteers, says the NSW RFS, the government-funded organisation leading the fight.

This model is century-old in Australia and very common in states like Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, where bushfire crisis occurs every summer.

In recent years, fires have also flared up in Tasmania and sub-tropical Queensland.

There are around 2,000 brigades are found in country towns and rural in NSW. Members of these brigades are mostly local people who on demand step out of their day to day lives to save their communities.

Historically the work has tended to be patchy, which is one of the main reason behind the volunteerism. Fire don’t blaze all the year and many areas aren’t affected in many years. So the local brigade volunteers need not do work as a firefighter all the time.

But this year’s situation is different. The crisis is so big that it’s been reported that a small town of Balmoral is almost entirely burnt by the fire.

The fire gets its intensity amid drier conditions. Hundreds of more fires are blazing this year than before. NSW is suffering the most severe blaze as the state has been in drought for years. So the fires are raping through the state easily.

Officials are now considering this year’s fire as the largest fire in Australia ever recorded.

People are taking off from their jobs

People took leave from their day jobs to fight the fires. Lucy Baranowski and her partner are among them. She is currently living by on savings, support from family and friends and credit cards.

She sent her children to her parents’ house a week ago. Her crew saved a friend’s property- a success.

‘So many people aren’t making an income but are putting every part of their passion and blood into this campaign – it’s really, really rough on a lot of people,’ she says.

She said she considers NSW RFS as her family.

Support for firefighters

The volunteer firefighters’ sacrifice caught the nation’s attention. The Labor opposition, town mayors, and a firefighters’ union have called compensation for the firefighters.

‘They volunteer as much as they can afford, sometimes even more than they can afford. It is not sustainable,’ says Mick Holton, president of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association.

Firefighters work ling times to fight fires, took off from their jobs, accruing expenses along the way. Mr Knox travelled to the town of Tenterfield to work as a volunteer firefighter. It was an eight-hour drive from Sydney, and he paid his petrol.

Public support for the fighters like Mr Knox is an all-time high. During this Christmas season, shops and restaurants are donating profits to the NSW RFS.

Many people are fundraising online to buy food, musks and other supplies to the crews.