As South Australia prepares for the 2023-24 fire danger season, Country Fire Service brigades including at Nangwarry are in need of volunteer firefighters.
In readiness for the upcoming fire danger season, Nangwarry firefighter and training coordinator Scott McMillan is actively recruiting in a bid to boost firefighting numbers.
“New volunteers of diverse ages and backgrounds are always welcome,” Mr McMillan said.
“Being a small brigade, we have members but want to get more people interested in joining.”
He said joining the CFS was not just about fighting fires.
Other than firefighting, the CFS offers a range of opportunities to contribute according to your skills, interests and availability.
Mr McMillan emphasised that not every volunteer was needed on the front line holding a hose.
Some of the diverse roles the brigade is looking for volunteers to fill include radio operations, administration support, operational support, community education, fundraising and catering.
“You will work side by side with other volunteers in times of emergency and learn new and valuable skills that is transferable to help you in day-to-day life and in your workplace,” he said.
“There is the opportunity to learn new skills and use those skills to help the community.
“Regardless of your skills, or whether you have got a lot of time or a little, we do need to get new people on board to make sure we’re able to service the community in the years to come.
“There would be some commitment but it’s not overwhelming and it’s always down to the volunteer to give the commitment they can.”
Essential training must be completed before being able to attend at an incident, all members must undertake the Basic Firefighter Course within the first six months of joining.
After completing the Basic Firefighter Course, other courses external to the brigade are optional.
However, members are encouraged to undertake them.
The CFS offers courses in a wide range of areas, including rural firefighting, breathing apparatus (BA), industrial fires, hazardous materials, road crash rescue and officer training.
As one of the primary response brigades for the Tarpeena Mill, which requires trained BA operators, Mr McMillan said this was one skill the local brigade needs more of.
“We currently have four BA operators and we need more drivers,” he said.
“We do offer driver training. But if there is anyone who already has got a medium or heavy rigid licence would be really appreciated.”
Other courses available include first aid, incident management, chainsaw safety, driver training and food handling.
Many of the courses are Nationally Accredited.
“The CFS has volunteers who train hard and risk their lives for their community,” Mr McMillan said.
“Most of all you get to help make your community a safer place to live in and enjoy the support from your community for your efforts.”
Training is held Wednesday evenings from 7pm at the Nangwarry station on McIntosh Street.
“We recognise and value the contribution including the time that is given by volunteers,” Mr McMillan said.
Apart from meeting the minimum requirements for training and skills maintenance, how much time offered can be negotiated.
Mr McMillan originally worked for Ambulance Victoria, later becoming a firefighter in Victoria for the Country Fire Authority before moving to South Australia two years ago where he currently volunteers with the Nangwarry CFS brigade.
Mr McMillan said he found volunteering in South Australia was a lot more community minded and close knit than over the border.
“The community has been very welcoming to me and it’s nice to be able to give back and support the community in the way that I know best,” he said.
“We are always there to help people out in their best and worst times.
“I have seen some things that have left a lasting impact on me.
“There are some challenges. You might see some tragic stuff. That is the nature of what we do. I have seen some trauma across a lot of age groups, but the CFS has an amazing network of support.
“If you need help, there is help. We get a minimum of six psychology appointments a year and plenty more support as well.
“If you turn up to a job that could be traumatic for you, you are not forced to be in the thick of it.
“You can be on traffic control, or if you change your mind and need to leave that’s okay. As a volunteer, you have a choice. It’s about knowing your limits.”
Meanwhile, Mr McMillan and his crew are planning a recruitment open day. A date is yet to be confirmed, with initial thoughts to hold the event before the start of the upcoming fire danger season.
“We are encouraging new people to come in and give volunteering with us a go,” Mr McMillan said.
“Nangwarry brigade has been here since World War II. We want to make sure we keep this brigade here and continue to support the community of Nangwarry.
“Eleven volunteers is bare minimum to keep the brigade open. The more the merrier.
“Ideally, we’d like two active crews. One crew on larger scale jobs and a relief crew. We can operate with four to six at an incident.”
Mr McMillan said there was something for all ages and all abilities.
“If we go to a big job it’s really great to have people to come help us pack up afterwards,” he said.
“You’re not guaranteed what time you are getting home when you go to an incident, so it would be great to have people even to help us pack up afterwards.
“Often at times after I have been running around putting out fires I’m knackered. I have probably been working as well all day.
“We do have fatigue management rules in place, so ideally we need the extra numbers as relief.
“Especially during summer, we might have multiple jobs at once. More numbers means at times we can organise a separate relief crew.”
Mr McMillan said as a firefighter there was opportunity to step up and undertake further training.
“It’s flexible, and there is a lot of incentive. The CFS are very supportive of volunteers and most training is government funded,” he said.
“A lot are run in region, with training facilities in Naracoorte and Mount Gambier.”
As for firefighting gear, all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Personal Protective Clothes (PPC) such as overalls, boots, gloves and helmets are also provided.
One firefighter who has committed to the operations of Nangwarry brigade is Steph Janetzki who at 22 years old is the youngest to take on the role of second Lieutenant.
“You do not have to know anything when you come here, you just have to be willing to learn something,” she said.
Ms Janetzki initially became a firefighter when living in Adelaide but moved to Mount Gambier three years ago to continue her training.
She demonstrates that recruiting is not limited to those living in the same town as their local brigade.
“Some of us live in surrounding towns and we are all volunteers who live and work different hours,” she said.
Fresh from maternity leave is Brooke Nicolson who has been a firefighter for the past five years.
The brigade also prides itself on being “family oriented”, which has allowed Ms Nicolson the flexibility of continuing her role in administration.
“I fight fires when I can,” she said.
Her partner Alan Ferguson has also been a firefighter for the past five years, which is how the couple met.
“I met Alan when fighting the Black Summer fires in Gippsland (Victoria),” she said.
The CFS also regularly works closely with other brigades around the region and other emergency services including police, ambulance and State Emergency Service.
The CFS has declared the Lower South East fire danger season will start November 22, while the Upper South East season starts on November 15.