FOCUS interviewed the crew of Headquarters Brigade, NSW Rural Fire Service, stationed in Wauchope, to discuss 20 years of operation.
Give a brief history of the brigade …
Jamie (Captain): A community meeting was arranged on 7 August 1991, inviting Hastings Council and interested volunteers to form the Hastings Headquarters Rural Fire Brigade. The brigade was formed and within the first year had seven members, Carl Schmitzer being the Captain.
Our first station was the converted Parsons bus depot shed in High St, Wauchope. A pre-loved RFS Category-1 heavy tanker was refitted, and over the next few years saw service throughout the Hastings attending bush fires, structure fires and motor vehicle accidents, as a major support brigade for the other 22 Hastings brigades.
Denise: Additionally, the brigade has also assisted with many out-of-area emergencies from the Narrabri fires in 1993 to the Central Coast fires in 1996; Sydney hailstorms in 1999; Dubbo fires in 2002; Canberra fires in 2003; Sydney fires in 2006 and Victorian fires in 2009.
Jamie: Hastings Fire Control and Headquarters Brigade was growing and in 2000, plans were drawn for a new RFS complex, which was completed and opened in October 2005. This included the Fire Control Centre, Headquarters Brigade station and SES headquarters in Cameron Street, Wauchope. Headquarters station now houses a Category-1 heavy tanker, a Category-7 light tanker and a Category-9 mop-up tanker. The station is a focal point during emergencies and training courses, with social activities for the volunteer members at quieter times.
What are your names and positions with the brigade?
Jamie: I’ve been brigade Captain since 2001 and have had the enjoyable experience of seeing enormous changes in the brigade, its equipment and personnel since joining in 1991.
Stuart: I transferred from Sutherland Shire in 2004 and have been fortunate to be the Senior Deputy Captain and the Training Officer since that time.
Caleb: I joined as a junior member in 2007 and have now completed a number of RFS courses. Between schoolwork, most of my spare time is spent at the fire station for training and call-outs.
Ashley: I’ve just turned 20, and my RFS qualifications are up to Crew Leader status. I hope to eventually move from volunteer status to a career within the RFS.
Donna: I’m a new member and loving it. I have also been appointed Welfare Officer for the brigade.
Katie: I Joined the brigade in 2006 and now attend training and call-outs when possible during my uni holidays.
What services does the brigade perform for the local community?
Tracey: Headquarters brigade fulfils the role of incident and emergency response, our primary role being fire suppression. We are essentially a support brigade for the other 22 Hastings brigades, which means on any given day we may attend a grass fire at Long Flat or a motor vehicle accident on the Pacific Highway.
Additionally, we assist the SES during flood and storm emergencies, take part in search and rescue operations and work with Forestry doing fire mitigation.
How large an area does the brigade cover when it answers calls for assistance?
Ashley: Our area is roughly from the south around Johns River, extending north to the outskirts of Kempsey and west to the fringes of Walcha. That’s basically the Hastings Fire Control area and as a support brigade, that’s our turf as well.
How many and what types of members does the brigade currently have?
Jeff: We have a variety of members, totalling seventeen. Ten of those are active fire fighters, with the rest in brigade support roles. We are fortunate to have a delightfully diverse crew, with a mix of ages from teens to seniors and a balance of girls and guys, which works extremely well.
What education and awareness programs does the brigade have in place with the community?
Shirley: We have an open-door policy and an annual open day ( Sat 24 September) where the community can call in for information on fire related issues. Community Engagement days are run two or three times a year at shopping centres, where brochures assisting rural and urban landholders may be sourced.
We understand that the brigade is celebrating a major birthday in August … how do you plan to celebrate the occasion?
Jamie: Yes, this month will be twenty years since Carl Schmitzer and crew commenced the brigade. Carl, incidentally, is now an Inspector with the RFS and located full-time at the Fire Control Centre in Wauchope.
Stuart: We’ll celebrate with a Sunday get-together. Tracey makes a Turkish Delight Mud Cake to die for, which goes down well with caramel ice cream and will be a great follow-on after the BBQ steaks and baked spuds. The girls are planning balloons and streamers as well and who knows, there might even be a fireman’s quartet to sing ‘Happy Birthday”. No doubt we’ll tell a lot of tall tales from the legendary past.
How can community members assist the brigade with its operations?
Denise: All RFS brigades are open to enlist new members and we are happy to encourage enquiries from girls and guys, from late teens to seniors. Members are able to contribute whatever available time they have and participate in various active roles, including firefighting and administration.
What’s involved with becoming a member of the brigade?
Jamie: First of all, come down to the station and have a chat with us. We’ll give you some info to take home and if you feel you are able to make a contribution to the community through the RFS, then various courses are open to you. Beginning with a basic course as a ‘Bush Firefighter’, you can proceed to numerous levels of proficiency if you choose.
How can you be contacted?
Tracey: Easy … it’s simply a phone call to Fire Control at Wauchope on 6586 4565, and you will be put in touch with the Captain of your closest brigade. You can also call in at 108 Cameron Street for the same info and pick up a few RFS brochures as well.
Thanks everyone – and congratulations on your 20th birthday!
Interview by Jo Atkins.
Please note: the hardworking team at the Headquarters Brigade, NSW Rural Fire Service comprises: Jamie Murphy – Captain, Stuart Jose – Senior Deputy Captain, Denise McCarthy – Deputy Captain, Jeff Hallam – Deputy Captain, Ashley Donkin – Deputy Captain, Tracey Walton – Secretary/Treasurer, Caleb Walton – Junior Maintenance Officer, Katie McCarthy – Fire Fighter, Donna Anthony – Welfare Officer, Shirley Hallam – Comm Ed Officer, Denis McIntyre – Non active member.