9 May 2023

Young Gundaroo volunteer firefighter honoured for her spirit - and compassion

| Sally Hopman
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Vokunteer firefighters in front of their truck.

Rosie Joshua with the team she travelled to Corakai with last year to help with flood recovery. From left, Michael Georgievski, Brett Southwell, Rosie Joshua, Marty Boyce, and Dark Kukic. Photo: Supplied.

They cover just about everything in Rural Fire Service (RFS) training, but there are some things that can only come straight from the heart.

Like the time Rosie Joshua, of Gundaroo, went on her first RFS deployment, representing the Back Creek Brigade.

It was last year when those floods monstered northern NSW, particularly around Lismore. Rosie, 21, had just finished training and was on her first “job”. Deployed as part of a Lake George/Monaro/Southern Tablelands taskforce, Rosie had been sent up to near Corakai, not fighting fires, but helping locals clean up the mud soaked, waterlogged houses, filling water tanks, just doing “whatever we could”.

“It was our last day there and we didn’t have an exact position for where we were supposed to be going, so we didn’t get there till quite late in the day. It was the area that you might have seen on the TV news at the time, where people were on the roof of their houses, waiting to be rescued.”

Rosie said their destination turned out to be the home of an elderly couple, a husband and wife who had almost always lived there and, although it was on a floodplain, it had never gone under. Until last year.

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“It was crazy when we got there,” Rosie said. “There were tyres in trees – at other places we heard there were even cars in trees.

“When things started to go bad, the couple decided, because their house had never flooded before, to put some of their animals in the house for safety, like a horse and some ducks and geese. They took their cats and dogs in the boat with them when they left – and the man also took his oxygen tank on board because he had emphysema.”

The couple and their pets were in the boat for three days before they were rescued.

Rosie said her team arrived at the property about the same time as the couple returned home. All the animals in the house were dead, and a rescue team was in the process of cleaning it up, including burning the remains of the animals.

“When I saw what happened I just jumped out of the truck and ran over to the woman and her husband and we just cried together. I didn’t know them, but it just happened.

“You’re not taught how to deal with this in training,” she said. “You are taught to do what you can in whatever situation you find yourself in, and that’s all I did.”

But sometimes, she said, the best thing you can do is put an arm around someone.

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“The woman broke down to me and it gives me shivers even just thinking about it. She told me their story and what they had gone through. I just stood with her and held her and we cried together. I really wanted to make sure they got the help they needed, because they needed much more than water.”

Concerned that the couple was grieving more than just a loss of “things”, Rosie said after her team had done all they could and were scheduled to return home, she went to the area commander.

“I just told him that these people really needed help, ” she said. The next day, she heard, eight trucks had been sent to the farm to help.

For her efforts, Rosie was honoured with a Florian medal this week, a coveted RFS award given to volunteers for bravery and compassion under exceptional circumstances. Held on 4 May each year, the award ceremony coincides with the Feast Day of St Florian, patron saint of firefighters and International Firefighters’ Day.

Deputy Captain Marty Boyce, who worked with Rosie on the deployment and nominated her for the award, said he was amazed with the young firefighter’s intuition and compassion.

RFS volunteers

Rosie Joshua with her proud father and veteran Back Creek RFS deputy captain and volunteer, Chris Joshua. Photo: Supplied.

“Her thoughtfulness and understanding of how it all works was well above what you would expect because this was her first-ever deployment. For her to have those thought patterns was outstanding.

“Everyone looks at the excitement of raging floodwaters and rescues, they look at the big flames and the helicopters and fire trucks, but there’s a lot that the volunteers do that is above and beyond that and probably doesn’t get recognised as much. Sometimes you just need to be there and give people a shoulder to cry on.”

But for Rosie, who works as a flight attendant in her other life, there was another special reason to be chuffed about the honour.

Her father Chris Joshua, was deputy captain of the Back Creek brigade for 12 years and is still an active volunteer.

“He is why I got into this,” she said. “He’s my inspiration. As a child, all I can remember is how he would always drop whatever he was doing when the call came in that help was needed.

“I just wanted to be able to do the same one day.”

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