In 1979, a young and spritely 19-year-old Andrew Tulloch signed up at his local fire brigade to dedicate his time and efforts to help protect our communities in a time of need. Fast forward to today, Andy holds the highest title honoured as a volunteer RFS member, Group Captain, overseeing five brigades within the Mid Coast District. This December marks a major milestone, as we celebrate this amazing man and his 40 years of service to the RFS.
Hi Andy. Please tell us a little about yourself, family and your connection to the Camden Haven area.
My wife Niki, our three children and I left the Northern Beaches of Sydney in 2000 and travelled for a year in an old caravan around Australia. The children did Distance Education whilst on the road, and they still speak often of our trip; It cemented our family. After completing our trip, we took a detour off the highway at Kew, whilst on our way to South West Rocks. We have been going to South West Rocks since the 1970s, and we ended up settling in Lake Cathie, January 2001.
I currently own and operate a skip bin business, RED-e Bins, in the local area, which can be hard to juggle with such major fire activity in the area. I really appreciate the understanding and compassion that my customers have shown. Niki works at Port Macquarie Base Hospital.
Our eldest daughter, Stephanie and her husband Tim have moved up from Sydney in the last three years with their son, Banjo. Niki and I are pretty happy about that.
This month, you celebrate 40 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Rural Fire Service. That is an amazing achievement! Tell us how you became involved with the RFS all those years ago.
I joined what was then called the Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade in December 1979 at the age of 19. There were major fires in Sydney at that time, so I went to my local brigade, being Ku-Ring-Gai, to see if they needed some help. I had to write down my name, address and next of kin. That was all. I had some overalls and boots with me and had to pay a $5 deposit on a helmet. With that, they told me to jump on the back of a truck (it was literally the back of the truck) and off we went. There was no formal training back in those days.
Can you share what your position is within the Volunteer RFS and how you got there?
Since 2012, I have held the position of Group Captain within the Mid Coast District. I currently look after and help manage five brigades in the district, as well as being a member of the District Senior Management Team.
In October this year, I led a Strike Team to help with the fires at Glen Innes and Grafton. The landscape around these areas is desperately dry and barren.
The experience I have had, such as the 1980s fires and the destructive 1994 fires, led me down the pathway of various positions within the RFS over the years in Ku-Ring-Gai and Lake Cathie Brigades, including President, Deputy Captain, Senior Deputy Captain and Captain.
I can imagine you’ve been on quite a journey throughout those 40 years, including the most recent bushfires right here in our own backyards. There would be a lot of negative stories, but could you share a few of your most positive ones?
During these recent fires, I have had the pleasure of working side by side with a lot of other agencies, including Fire & Rescue NSW, National Parks and Wildlife, Forestry Commission, as well as RFS brigades from NSW and interstate.
My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter what badge you wear on your sleeve, this a team effort, this is a family, and we have people and property to protect. The men and women from these services have not only endured physical exhaustion, but the emotional toll on them can also be enormous. To see the destruction, properties destroyed and not being able to defend some of them plays heavily on their minds. Thankfully, the RFS has a Critical Incident Support Service dedicated to help.
The generosity shown by the local community has been amazing. It has been so overwhelming to see such support, and it really installs your faith in humanity. The gathering we had in Lake Cathie on 17th November really brought our whole community together and showed how strong we can all be in a crisis.
Lake Cathie Brigade does an annual Santa run, with sirens blaring, delivering lollies around our local streets.
One of my favourite memories was when our brigade made a specific stop at a home. A father carried out his very sick boy in his arms and seeing the joy on the boy’s face at Santa on the fire brigade truck visiting his house is something I will always remember. My eyes just welled up with tears of happiness.
You were not only out fighting these recent fires; your property was also under attack. I can imagine that was a difficult balance between service to the community and defending your own property.
My wife and son-in-law defended our property at Lake Cathie, whilst I was coordinating brigades at other fires in our area. They had the support of the brigades and water-bombing helicopters. I was on the radio throughout that time and knew what stage our property was at. We were very fortunate and grateful, and we thank those crews on the ground and above for being there.
What do you love most about volunteering your time and energy to this amazing group?
The satisfaction in giving to and protecting the community is enormous.
The camaraderie and the solid friendships I have made throughout my time in the RFS is an added bonus.
For anyone who would like to volunteer with the RFS, where do they begin?
Anyone wishing to join the RFS should either contact their local brigade or the Fire Control Centre on 1300 MIDCOAST (1300 643262).