The soldier settlement of Maimuru, northwest of Young, has long been known for its stone fruit production but last weekend was all about celebrating a combined 420 years of community service from a handful of residents.
A National Emergency Medal and 14 long service medals were presented to local Rural Fire Service (RFS) brigade members, recognising service ranging between 11 and an astounding 66 years.
Fittingly, the stage for so auspicious an occasion was a brand new fire shed, which was also officially opened.
And while Len Summerfield couldn’t be present to mark his 66 years of service to the Maimuru RFS, his efforts were lauded alongside the 65 years put in by his colleague Noel Donges.
So remarkable was the milestone that NSW RFS assistant commissioner Ben Millington said he would be hard-pressed to find other such long-serving volunteers.
In addition to Len and Noel, Steven Madge was acknowledged for his 47 years, Ted Loader for his 47 years, Frank Byrnes for his 45 years and David McMillan for 35 years of service.
Maimuru’s senior deputy captain Darrin Bear was presented with the National Emergency Medal to recognise his five days of sustained service in direct response to the declared bush fire emergency in 2019. He was also recognised for his 16 years of service.
For captain Joel DeBritt, whose service to the RFS numbered 23 years, the occasion was the gold at the end of a long fundraising rainbow peppered with raffles.
Like most rural brigades, the traditional local firefighting muscle harks from a self-sufficient fold of farmers with an eclectic mix of machinery – from old beaten up Austins, Bedfords, Isuzus and Hinos sporting portable water tanks with putt-putt motors to battered Landcruisers dragging trailers.
There were days when wet hessian sacks were also deployed.
But in recent years, with firefighter safety in mind, the arsenal has grown to include state-of-the-art firefighting tankers. They are capable of good communication while handling rough and remote terrain with cabin protection spray systems and a pump capacity that delivers a minimum of 1500 litres per minute.
These tankers required housing more suitable than a farmer’s shearing shed, as was the case for one in Maimuru. The other tanker sat in another shed in town, 15 minutes away.
Personal protection equipment had to be stored in a shipping container at the airport.
Through years of raffles and fundraisers Joel and his team scrounged together money to help fit out the new shed, which now sits proudly at Young Airport, central to firefighting operations in the NSW South West Slopes RFS Zone.
The $234,000 Maimuru Road site boasts a two-bay station, multipurpose room, industrial carpet, security system and a garage to house fire trucks, thanks to the combined generosity of the NSW RFS and Hilltops Council.
For Joel it meant the team, from the vantage point at Young Airport, would be better able to support the RFS aerial firefighting efforts, with the multi-purpose room acting as a command outpost should the need arise.
They’re well versed in doing so, having deployed volunteers and trucks to major fires as far afield at Mudgee, Glen Innes and Victoria, but it was the Dunns Road fire in the summer of 2019/20 that really tested their mettle.
“I think of the 17 days that fire burned, our truck was down there for 11,” Joel said.
Minister Cooke praised each Maimuru brigade volunteer’s commitment to protecting their community.
“It is so humbling to meet people who dedicate most of their lives to help others and I know we in the community are grateful that we can call upon you in times of need,” he said.
Other long service recipients were Benjamin Bushby for 11 years of service, Christopher Muller for his 12 years, Richard Allbutt for 12 years, Roland Orr for 13, Timothy Barr for 14 and Jonathan Bear for his 14 years.