4 November 2022

After 25 years, behind-the-scenes RFS stalwart earns her day in the sun

| Sally Hopman
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Two firies

Beth Baines is congratulated on her 25 years of service with the RFS by acting zone manager George Shepherd at the Yass District Fire Control Office. Photo: Rural Fire Service.

They are the stalwarts behind the scenes of the people who make a difference.

When Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers answer the call and head out on the truck to take them somewhere, usually to a job where lives and property are in danger, it’s people like Beth Baines who make sure the right volunteers are called, they’ve got what they need to do their job – and they’ll be as safe as they can be.

For the past 25 years, Beth has been working behind the scenes to help volunteer rural firefighters do their job. She started on 6 November, 1996, as a secretary for the then Gunning Shire Council Fire Control Officer for the NSW Bushfire Service (BFS) Peter Dyce. In 2001, when the BFS became the NSW RFS, Beth was one of its foundation members and started working for the NSW Government.

“It’s funny, you know, because when I started working for the Gunning Council, I joked that I had been on maternity leave for 20 years,” Beth said, of the years she spent raising three children and working on the family’s sheep farm.

“But back then, things were a bit slow on the farm so I needed a part-time job.”

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Beth nee Starr, who was born and bred in Dalton, said she moved just 4 km from one side of the village to the Gunning side when she married Graham Baines. Living on the land, she was introduced at an early age to the importance of bushfire safety on the farm – and because her father had his own truck and pump.

“That’s how they did it back then,” she said. “If there was a fire he’d sometimes be gone for days. All they had then was an old radio, not like all the equipment they have now. The equipment they have today makes all the difference. We can talk to planes in the air, to helicopters – it’s amazing.

“When he came back he’d tell us that the only place he could get any sleep was behind the wheel of the truck.

“I learned from him that with volunteers, the good ones always know what to do … they just know. And I’ve found that to be true.

“These days there is such good cameraderie among the volunteers and they get such good training too. No-one’s allowed on the truck if they haven’t had the right training.”

Beth said working behind the scenes for the RFS was a job she loved. It was a lot easier, said the woman who was not a big fan of things high-tech, when more paper than computers was used – and when jackets and pants for the volunteers were distributed when needed “hopefully in the right size”.

Eight volunteer firefighters

Beth Baines, second from left, is farewelled by her colleagues after more than 25 years of service. Heath Hayes, Beth Baines, Mick Uren, George Shepherd, Jacob Boddy, Debbie Clarke, Katrina Nixon and Mitch Butler. Photo: RFS.

“It’s a lot different from today when everyone comes in to get sized up properly for their PPE [personal protection equipment],” she said.

Beth’s husband Graham, too, was a firie. He captained the Dalton brigade for 14 years.

One of the reasons Beth decided to retire after her 25 years of service was because of her husband’s ill health.

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“One day, I was walking out the gate to go to work when I realised I wanted to go back to bed instead. It was the first time I’d ever felt like that, I guess I was just tired,” Beth, 69, said.

“I loved my job, it was good to me, but I just decided one day that was it.

“My husband needs me now.”

On Beth’s retirement from the RFS, her colleagues past and present posed for a photograph with her and paid tribute saying: “Beth has been the face of the service to our volunteers for just over 25 years. She has been a kind, pleasant, professional and respectful person representing the RFS at district level.

“She will be missed by all her work colleagues and volunteers. We wish Beth all the best in retirement returning back to their property to enjoy a peaceful life.”

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