'I'M NO HERO': Volunteer who lost son in valiant fire fight
IT'S been a tough year for Edwin Newbery. In March the bloke who picks up your green waste lost his 21-year-old son to suicide.
But that didn't stop him volunteering day and night from last Thursday through to Monday to save homes from the devastation of bushfires.
Long days and nights fighting fires has meant precious little time spent at home in Copmanhurst with his wife, 17-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.
The garbage collector for JR Richards & Sons was finally back at work yesterday to earn the income that supports his family.
"I stopped late last night," he said with a raspy voice.
"Throat's a bit clogged up from all that smoke.
"I was meant to have today off but there was no one else to drive the truck."
The Copmanhurst Rural Fire Service captain and treasurer helped fight the Whiteman Creek fire northwest of Grafton, which continues to be controlled and has so far covered at least 1953 hectares.
"It did get pretty hectic over the weekend. We were all over the place," he said.
Just a week earlier he attended the Rotary NSW Emergency Services Community Awards where he was named the NSW Rural Fire Service Officer of the Year.
"It does feel like a while ago, but it was last week," he said.
"I don't accept the award for myself, but on behalf of all volunteers that go to fires.
"I don't do it to be a hero. I like the satisfcation at the end of the day of being able to help somebody else.
"I wasn't really expecting it. I don't really see myself as any more special than anyone else. We're all out there doing the best we can."
Mr Newbery joined the SES in 2007, and in 2012 joined the RFS, which shares the same building and facilities at Copmanhurst.
In recent years he has resurrected the Copmanhurst RFS.
"When the bridgade collapsed I stuck around and took on the responsibility of all the different roles and worked hard to get more members and build it back up again," he said.
The brigade now has eight active members, including three who just completed their basic firefighting training last month.
"Two of them were out there most of the weekend," Mr Newbery said.
"It's not the best way to be introduced to the fire brigade but they were out there and did a great job."
Saving lives and properties in path of Whiteman Creek fire
Mr Newbery's long haul on the firegrounds started when he was called out to supply bulk water to a fire at Fine Flower on Thursday night.
Since then, his efforts were concentrated on the Whiteman Creek fire.
"On Friday I stepped out of the garbage truck and went straight into the fire zone at Whiteman Creek," he said.
"It was considered an emergency so I was able to get out of work early. We were required to do property protection and that went into Friday night.
"Saturday was a full-on day doing more property protection, burning around houses in the Whiteman Creek area.
"Sunday was a bit of dozer protection, to make sure he gets out the other end safe and doesn't get caught by the fire. There's a fair bit of mapping involved, plotting the way the dozer will go, because there's not always roads where we go.
"Yesterday started by attending the house fire at Whiteman Creek at 3.45am, relaying water from the fire hydrant to the town fire brigade.
We also did a fair bit of backburning work around the Clarence Way area.
"There's a fair few different roles, just whatever comes up at the time."
Mr Newbery has no doubt numerous houses were saved due to the work of volunteer firefighers.
"It's saved a lot of homes," he said. "Although it's sad that we've lost one, it could be much worse.
"The winds that we've had, you're on top of it one minute, and the next minute you get a gust of wind and it's gone 50 metres up the track.
"So it's extremely lucky we haven't lost more, really."
MORE VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: 'Young people need to step up to the plate'
"We're really short of members in the Clarence Valley. We especially need young people to step up to the plate."
"It's a fantsatic experience, especially for four-wheel drivers."
To find out how to become a volunteer at your local brigade call the Clarence Valley Rural Fire Service control centre at Ulmarra on 6644 5135 or visit www.rfs.nsw.gov.au.
"They can direct them to their local brigades or get the captains to contact them," Mr Newbery said.
Community generosity shines during bushfires
Mr Newbery said he appreciated the outpouring generosity during the past week from the community directed towards the crews fighting the fires.
"We've had people put out a little store at Bailies Rd for the fireys to stop and have something to eat, which has been very much appreciated.
"On the dozers a lot of the time food doesn't get to you, so when you pass these stalls it's fantastic."
"I've been to a few in the very remote area up at Ewingar. Them guys are fantastic - one of a kind.
"I enjoy doing it. I also do it because of the people I meet."
ROTARY EMERGENCY SERVICES COMMUNITY AWARDS
SOME of the state's most dedicated heroes came together in Bankstown to be honoured for their unwavering commitment to community safety at the 2019 Rotary Emergency Services Community Awards.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott congratulated the seven winners who each had distinguished careers responding to major incidents:
- Fire and Rescue NSW: Zone Commander (Illawarra) Superintendent Anthony Waller
- NSW Marine Rescue: Coxwain (Port Macquarie) Raymond Angel
- NSW Ambulance: Duty Operations Manager (Northmead) Inspector Kevin McSweeney
- NSW Rural Fire Service: Captain and Treasurer (Copmanhurst) Edwin Newbery
- NSW SES: Deputy Unit Commander (Hunters Hill) Peter Dadd
- NSW Volunteer Rescue Association: Captain of the Albury and Border Rescue Squad Paul Marshall
The overall winner, Officer in Paid Capacity, is a Fire and Rescue NSW 38-year firefighting veteran, Zone Commander (Illawarra) Superintendent Anthony Waller, whose experience includes being a team leader in an Australian earthquake taskforce in Christchurch and an operations officer in the NSW cyclone taskforce in Proserpine, Queensland.
The overall winner, Officer in Volunteer Capacity, is NSW Volunteer Rescue Association Captain of the Albury and Border Rescue Squad Paul Marshall, who has actively promoted interagency cooperation as a serving member of Victorian Police Highway Patrol. He was also part of a team who travelled to Vanuatu to train locals in Disaster Preparedness and rescue operations.
"It takes a committed person who values their community to put themselves on the frontline when disaster strikes. I want to thank all the winners and the other finalists for being the people the community turns to when they need help," Mr Elliott said.
The $1000 Dorothy Hennessy OAM Emergency Services Youth Scholarship was awarded to Jessica Pengilley, a Trainee Operator, in the Dubbo Rescue from the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association.