Yanco-Wamoon RFS brigade captain Pat O'Callaghan shares his insight

DEDICATED: Yanco-Wamoon brigade captain Pat O'Callaghan has been an RFS volunteer for more than 25 years. Photo: Talia Pattison

DEDICATED: Yanco-Wamoon brigade captain Pat O'Callaghan has been an RFS volunteer for more than 25 years. Photo: Talia Pattison

"It's not just about fighting fires".

That's what Yanco-Wamoon Rural Fire Service brigade captain Pat O'Callaghan wants the community to know.

While there is of course that aspect to the job, as seen every day now on television screens across the state, the RFS is also about friendship and community.

All of that means the RFS is open to anyone who wants to join, you don't necessarily have to sign on to fight fires as there are many other roles that can be taken up. However, there's never been a more crucial time to consider becoming a volunteer.

"The community and family is why we do what we do," Mr O'Callaghan said.

"I think the community appreciates what we do for sure."

Mr O'Callaghan has been with the Yanco-Wamoon brigade for more than 25 years and said the current season was certainly one of the worst he has seen.

Members of his brigade, including himself, have been deployed to the fire zones to the north of the state, as well as the south.

Mr O'Callaghan and members of his team spent Christmas on the fire front on the South Coast at Shoalhaven.

They joined another crew from his brigade at the fire grounds. Each time a crew is deployed they are gone for around three to five days, but at least three days are spent on the fire grounds, making for exhausting work.

"It's a serious sacrifice all volunteers from all over are making," he said. "It's not just a sacrifice of your time and your employer's time, but it's a sacrifice of family time as well.

"Family is very important. Without our families we've got nothing."

While the sentiment from communities across the country is one of gratefulness and thankfulness for these men and women in yellow, it's perhaps not one shared by the country's Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Mr Morrison has been the focus of intense media scrutiny after rejecting calls for more bushfire help, saying volunteers "want to be there".

Mr O'Callaghan said of course RFS volunteers did want to be there helping, but this does put a financial burden on themselves and their families.

When they are fighting fires, they aren't at work.

Mr O'Callaghan is retired now, but when he was working at SunRice, his employer always made sure he was paid no matter how long he was away. However, this isn't the case for everyone.

Mr O'Callaghan believes the government could be doing more to help in that area.

"As a volunteer, I don't expect to get paid by the government," he said. "Some employers do pay their volunteers when they are away, which is great. In saying that, there's a lot of guys and girls that have their own businesses. So, when they go away, their businesses stop and they lose money.

"That's where I think the government needs to pick up their game to look after the employers and those with their own private businesses."

We're always looking for more volunteers, it doesn't matter what the season is like

Pat O'Callaghan

Over the years as a volunteer firefighter, Mr O'Callaghan has seen his share of devastation.

Working on a fire front is mentally and physically draining, but Mr O'Callaghan said when there was a job to do, volunteers got stuck in.

"At the moment I really feel for those volunteers who are from those areas affected by the fires," he said.

"They are the ones who are there day-in and day-out. We get to go home and see our families. That's why we are happy to go when we are called on, to give them a bit of relief."

Mr O'Callaghan knows it's going to be a long summer, with crews from across the MIA likely to be called on again and again to assist.

Soaking rain is the only thing that will help put these fires out and that's not likely to happen in the near future.

While there are aspects to being a volunteer that are tough, the positives do outweigh the negatives.

RFS volunteers shared a certain camaraderie with each other and many new friendships are formed over the years.

There's aspects to the job that can also be fun. There's Christmas toy runs, visits to school students to educate them on fire safety, participation in local events and much more.

"We're always looking for more volunteers, it doesn't matter what the season is like," Mr O'Callaghan said.

The Yanco-Wamoon brigade has expressed condolences to the family and friends to the volunteers who lost their lives on the fire front on December 19.

For more information about joining one of the many brigades throughout Leeton shire, contact the RFS MIA zone office on 6966 7800.