NEWLY-minted firefighters from The Armidale School worked up to 14 hours a day last week to help local brigades fight the region's bushfires.
Twenty Year 11 boys and girls assisted volunteers from the Dumaresq, Diggings, Devils Pinch, Dangarsleigh, and Herbert Park New England Zone RFS brigades with backburning to set a containment line along the northern break of the El Dorado fire near Kingstown, which lightning started three weeks ago.
It was a real-world introduction to rural firefighting for the students who only recently achieved their Bush Firefighter (BF) accreditation as part of the school's Rural Fire Service program dating from 1970.
While the students are affiliated with the Dangarsleigh brigade, many boarders also belong to a brigade near their homes. They are trained to use equipment such as portable extinguishers, pumps, hoses and nozzles, and how to reduce hazards and minimise risks.
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Student Reiley Oates said the reality was a little different to the training.
"We don't have a lot of water to use; it's a 45-minute round trip to get more, so we've been doing a lot of dry fire- fighting which adds to the challenge and makes you realise just how precious water is," he said.
Cooper Gerdes said the bushfire status across the nation made their efforts all the more meaningful.
"You get a real sense of community mixing in with people you don't know from all over, getting down and dirty together doing something that is so important."
Qualified RFS instructors and assessors run the TAS RFS course. The two staff co-ordinators, TAS trades assistant Bevan Michel and the business manager Pat Bradley, are both group officers with the RFS New England Region: Bevan with the Diggings RFS brigade, and Pat with the Dumaresq brigade. Two other TAS staff are also RFS-trained volunteers.
"The TAS strike crew, led by their experienced firefighter staff, was a self-sufficient unit," Response Team Coordinator Inspector Phil Patterson said.
"They performed in an exemplary manner, and made a huge contribution to tidying up the El Dorado fire.
"Their enthusiasm for the job at hand, and the respect and responsibility they showed for each other and other volunteers was wonderful to witness, as the next generation of RFS volunteers."
The school received the NSW Rural Fire Service's inaugural Supportive Employer Special Commendation award in 2013 to recognise its role in training young firefighters and supporting six RFS volunteers on staff.