From the Newsroom

Honour for 54 years of volunteer fire fighting service

Battling bushfires across the state and managing emergency response situations for 54 years has seen Gulmarrad Rural Fire Service member Brian Williams awarded an Order of Australia medal in this month’s Queen’s Birthday honours.

Speaking to the Independent from the Northern Territory oasis of Mataranka while enjoying a well-deserved retirement ‘lap’ of Australia, Mr Williams said he first joined the RFS Wamberal Brigade on the NSW Central Coast.  

“I’ve been a member of the RFS since I was 16, since about 1967,” he said.

“I joined as a volunteer and worked my way up through all the roles to brigade captain.

“In all those years with the RFS, I have worked very closely with the SES in search and rescues, in floods and emergency situations.”

Mr Williams’ ascendency through the RFS ranks continued while he worked full-time as a bricklayer on the Central Coast.

“After several years I became a group officer, still as a volunteer, where I was in control of seven brigades on the Central Coast, all within the Gosford shire,” he said.

“I did that for 20 years and everyone kept saying ‘you ought to turn this volunteer thing into a full-time job’.

“The paid staff were always asking me to come and work full-time, because of my fire knowledge, my skills in the bush and operational skills.”

Finally, after more than 30 years as an RFS volunteer, Mr Williams ditched his trowel and mud board for a paid position.

“I ended up joining the service full-time in 2004,” he said.

“I got transferred to Tumut as a Learning and Development Officer and then from there I got transferred to Grafton.”

Since 2006 when he arrived in the Clarence Valley, Mr Williams has been the Operations Manager in some of the biggest blazes the region has seen.

“I started at the Ulmarra office when I came up here as the Operations Manager for the Clarence Valley,” he said.

This was a role he performed until 2014, when he retired as a full-time RFS employee.

“The whole time I was employed by the service I was still a volunteer with a local brigade and since we moved to the Clarence Valley, I have been a member of the Gulmarrad brigade,” he said.

While he continued to volunteer with the Gulmarrad RFS after his retirement from his full-time role, his services were called on when the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires devastated the region.

“I’d already retired, and I was asked to come back to work for three months as the Operations Manager again for the Clarence Valley,” he said

“There were a lot of long hours by local staff and myself until we could get resources from around the state and get on top of the situation.

“Then I was responsible for deploying RFS members from the Clarence Valley to other areas of the state to assist with major fires throughout NSW.”

During his decades of service, saving properties and lives in extremely dangerous situations, Mr Williams said he made many life-long friends.

“We have an ethos within the community of the RFS that we are one big family,’ he said.

“We deal with situations and things as part of emergency services and emergency response that ordinary people don’t see.”

He credited the support and processes of the RFS ‘family’ with helping him cope with the dark sides of the job.

“I’ve been to some horrific crashes in my time, one where there were seven dead in a car, including five children,” he said.

“That’s why in the RFS we have debriefs together after events because what we do isn’t the ordinary, we have got to do some extraordinary things and be in some extraordinary situations and then have to go on with the rest of our lives.

“We always like to make sure we have close bonds with everyone in the brigade and in the service to support each other.”

Mr Williams said he was humbled and honoured to be announced as the recipient of an Order of Australia on the Queen’s Birthday honours list on June 13.

He will continue his travels around Australia but hopes to coordinate a two-week trip ‘home’ in spring to receive his medal at the investiture, at a date yet to be set.