A firefighting farmer from Wongarbon was among eight NSW Rural Fire Service members awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal at last week's Australia Day Honours.
Craig Walters, Group Captain of the Elong Elong and Wongarbon Rural Fire Brigades, was awarded the medal - which recognises firefighters across the country - for his service to the Orana region for the past 35 years.
"I don't think I do a whole lot differently to most other people in the service, I was just a bit lucky to get it. But it's nice to be recognised, absolutely," he told ACM.
"Being a farmer you often don't tend to socialise all that much outside your circle and it is very rewarding to bring a whole heap of different people from different backgrounds together and achieve a common goal for the common good."
Mr Walters joined the Elong Elong Brigade in 1987 and became a member of the Wongarbon brigade in 2015. He said he doesn't remember exactly why he signed up, but at the time most men in his community were involved.
"I grew up in Elong Elong and I don't even remember joining it, it's just one of those things that you do. Back then when there was a fire everyone just went to the fire to help," he said.
"It was a community thing. Back then the ladies used to get together and ring everyone and the next minute there'd be sandwiches made for everyone and the blokes would go off and fight the fire - it just seemed to happen."
Things have changed in the RFS since Mr Walters first joined, and the service has certainly become more inclusive.
"The thing that's definitely stayed the same is that sense of community within the RFS and looking after the local community - that's been a common thread throughout," he said.
"But probably everything else has changed. The equipment has improved, workplace health and safety is a really big focus now and the role of ladies within the service has definitely changed.
"It's called progress for a reason and it's definitely better, that's for sure."
Through his time as an RFS volunteer, Mr Walters has been deployed to assist during a number of major incidents both locally and further afield in Tasmania, the Blue Mountains and Northern Tablelands.
"The fires out in the Goonoo State Forest are always pretty large and complex events - we work really closely with National Parks on those - but they're always some of the more challenging events that we go to," he said.
Mr Walters said being a volunteer with the RFS is about more than just being a first responder during emergencies.
As well as fighting fires, he has been an advocate for rural interests and was involved in the development of the RFS's Farm Fire Unit project. He also helped deliver the Secondary School Cadet Program to schools in the Dubbo area in the program's initial phases.
"There's all different roles these days. We have the catering brigades, the support brigades and the communications brigades. There are so many different ways for people to be involved," he said.
"One of the sayings we have is that there's a job for everybody but maybe not every job is suited for everyone. If you want to join the RFS there's something for everyone to do. It's a very inclusive environment."
Across NSW, twelve firefighters - including eight from the RFS - were awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal this year. Also a recipient was recently retired Dubbo firefighter of 50 years, Peter Ryan.
"These members are a credit to the organisation and well deserving of this honour," RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
"Together, they have given more than 310 years of service to the RFS and their community - an incredible feat. Our people are our strength and we are proud to have such experienced, skilled and dedicated members in our ranks."
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