Firefighters do us proud

Written By miftah nugraha on Minggu, 03 Maret 2013 | 19.55

UNSUNG HEROES: CFA volunteers back burn on a property near Ellendale.

IF there is one thing clear from Tasmania's horrific summer of fires, it's that the state relies heavily on its army of volunteer firefighters.

About 5500 across the state put in more than 20,000 hours to battle one of our worst summer of blazes on record.

At the height of the crisis in early January, many worked 10 days straight.

The unsung heroes represent one of Tasmania's biggest and most diverse volunteer groups.

Men, women, retirees, juniors, professionals, academics, farmers, small business owners, stay-at-home parents people from all walks of life are volunteer members of the Tasmania Fire Service.

Ordinary people that have been trained to do amazing things.

TFS volunteer strategy co-ordinator Lucas van Rijswijk said that, with just 280 career firefighters, the state relied heavily on volunteers to boost efforts during major campaigns.

All year volunteers are at the ready to respond to structure fires, traffic accidents and chemical spills, using up their annual leave and days off.

"Volunteers attend 90 per cent of incidents, they are a very, very important part of having a safer community," Mr van Rijswijk said.

"A lot of volunteer brigades are very close to their communities ... they fundraise for community organisations, they run social activities and with the support of landowners they may also help to do fuel reduction burns."

In early January when record heat fanned devastating fires at Lake Repulse, at Dunalley and on the East Coast, volunteers dropped everything to go wherever they were needed.

"This (summer) was a classic example of when a surge capacity was really important," Mr van Rijswijk said.

"We had people come from the North West Coast who were involved in the fires on the Tasman Peninsula. They came from all over the state depending on where they were needed we're also able to call on the mainland states for support."

Mr van Rijswijk said local volunteers were crucial first responders to emergencies in their area.

To be effective, they needed supportive employers and families.

"We really rely on the good will of people in the community, not just volunteers," Mr van Rijswijk said.

An independent review of Tasmania Fire Service's response to the January bushfire crisis is under way.

Mr van Rijswijk said the review was a chance to consider what kind of volunteer force would be needed to protect the community into the future, among other questions.

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