Stanthorpe man Hugh Strong decided to join the Queensland Rural Fire Service after listening to stories from survivors of the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires. In 2009, he was working on our bushfire information line. He helped people over the phone, but wanted to do more.
“I felt like I couldn’t listen to those stories and just do nothing. I wanted to step up and to give back to the community. I wanted to make people safe,” Hugh said.
It’s been a long summer for the volunteer. He and thousands of others have been fighting bushfires around Australia.
At home he fought the Stanthorpe fires where embers swirled around like snow in a blizzard and rural fire trucks melted in the heat. He also worked in the Main Range National Park, on the front line and as divisional commander in charge of all trucks, personnel and operations on the western side of the range.
Most recently Hugh travelled to the ACT with 250 Queensland Emergency Service personnel to fight the Orroral Valley fire. He said it’s great to be able to work with emergency services teams from other states to share knowledge and expertise.
“It’s not just a matter of putting the wet stuff on the red stuff,” Hugh said.
“We learn how to contain bushfires, we learn about back burning, we learn about the fire science and wind and weather conditions.”
Hugh works for Services Australia in the Stanthorpe service centre. The agency supports his volunteering, recognising the crucial role it plays protecting communities in times of need. He said it goes hand in hand with his paid work.
“My work with the QRFS shows people who come to the office that I work hard and value our local community,” Hugh said.
“In times of crisis it also allows me to have empathy for what people have been through. You see the ferocity of the fire for yourself and you get an understanding of what people have survived.”
He said he’d encourage everyone to consider joining their local rural fire service.
“Sign up, we need you. Even if people don’t want to face the hot stuff there are lots of other jobs to do,” he said.
“There’s communications work, cleaning out trucks and restocking water for crews – that frees up others to fight fires.”
The recent rain has brought welcome relief after months of work on the ground. It gives Hugh hope that one day soon they’ll be able to take a break, hang up their helmets and farewell a long, hot summer.
“By the time you’ve finished on the firefighting line you have nothing left. The number of times I have slept in my gear this year is unbelievable,” Hugh said.
“The acts of courage I’ve encountered this year have been extraordinary. From a newly qualified 17 year old cadet holding a fire line with me in defence of properties to watching a brigade melt their own truck defending a house. I later learned it was the Stanthorpe Service Centre Manager’s home – work and volunteering collide!
“There’s no better feeling than seeing a job through to the end, and heading home knowing it’s done.”
- You can find more information about support for people directly affected by bushfires here.