These La Trobe students are giving up their summer break to battle bushfires in their local communities

Bradley Innes Will had only just finished his Semester 2 exams when bushfires began to ravage large parts of New South Wales.

The Mildura Campus student immediately switched his textbooks for a firefighting uniform, joining thousands of other volunteers working around the clock to extinguish the life-threatening blazes.

The second-year Bachelor of Nursing student has been a volunteer firefighter for almost four years, first at the Cambewarra Rural Fire Brigade and, more recently, the Buronga Rural Fire Brigade.

The two RFS stations are almost 1000 kilometres apart. But Bradley acquired dual membership after moving from the Shoalhaven area to Mildura for study. So now he can tend to emergencies close to home, and close to his place of study!

“We are prepared to respond to any emergency in our local community: day or night, rain or shine, good or bad: we will be there for you,” he says.

Unfortunately, he expects volunteers like himself will be called upon more and more frequently in the future.

“We are experiencing fierce amounts of dry thunderstorms, which bring lighting strikes to unattended areas, often fanned by extreme winds and hot weather conditions,” Bradley says.

So, what motivates Bradley to put himself in the line of fire?

Two things, he says: the camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, and the feeling he gets when he helps those in need.

“We are just Aussies helping Aussies, neighbours helping neighbours, mates helping mates,” Bradley says.

Shepparton Campus student Courtney Goldberg was motivated to join her local Country Fire Authority station, the Mooroopna brigade, for similar reasons, saying the team of volunteers becomes like a family.

She’s been a member of that particular group for several years, joining the brigade’s junior running team as a 12-year-old.

Since becoming an operational member, she’s seen all sorts of situations: “House fires, alarms, car accidents, but typically the brigade is called to grass and scrub fire due to the large areas of bush land located in the Mooroopna area,” Courtney recalls.

But the experience of being a CFA member was more than just responding to emergencies.

Among the other activities Courtney takes part in are:

  • Weekly training exercises
  • Door knocking on Good Friday to help raise money for the Good Friday Appeal
  • Fire Equipment Maintenance (checking fire extinguishers and refilling when required)
  • the Fire Safe Kids program, that teaches fire safety to young children
  • Participating in Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services

How do Courtney and Bradley manage to balance study with work, family and volunteering?

Both say juggling commitments can be a challenge, but being a volunteer actually fits perfectly with student life; when Uni means they’re unavailable to answer call-outs, other volunteers step up.

“Being a volunteer firefighter allows for flexibility with when you turn out to jobs, so this allows me to spend time studying whenever required,” Courtney says.

According to Bradley, there are a few things the La Trobe community can do to help firefighters this summer.

He recommended everyone download three apps that help prepare for and respond to fire: the VicEmergency app, Fires Near Me app and My Fire Plan app.

“Stay up-to-date with local emergencies, and be ready if a fire was to approach your house,” he says.

“Have a plan and be prepared.

“Ask your families, colleagues, friends, neighbours or somebody you know that has some spare time to give a hand at their local brigade – they would much appreciate it.

“We are there for you, are you there for us ?”