27 September 2021
It's a rural fiery affair
Rural Fire Service firefighter and Hume Housing officer Alicia Bruinink with her award and training certificate
When Hume Community Housing’s housing officer Alicia Bruinink said ‘I do’ to husband Robert, she was not just getting married, she was signing up to a partnership in the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), where Robert has been in voluntary service for 24 years.
Alicia and her husband along with other RFS volunteers were recently presented the Premier’s Award for their heroic efforts during the terrible 2019-2020 bushfires. They will also soon be presented with a National Medal for the role they played in defending communities from bush fires.
When they met in 2011, Robert encouraged Alicia to sign up with the RFS, but resisted for a little while as having children was a focus. It was after their second child was born Alicia felt it was the right time.
Today Robert is Captain and Alicia, Deputy Captain, of the Peninsula RFS, based at Mirrabooka on the Morisset Peninsula in New South Wales. They have two young children Boudewijn and Abigail who also get involved with events and are inspired by their parents.
The Peninsula Brigade volunteers attends around 160 call outs a year, which can range from bush and grass fires to structure fires, car accidents, storm, and flood recovery as well as many other scenarios where people need help.
“My journey with the RFS started with the urge to be able to do more. I would watch my husband run out the door when the pager would go off and our son would run behind him yelling ‘go daddy go!’” said Alicia.
“Years prior our friendship group included RFS people, and I always listened with interest to their fire battle stories and was inspired by their passion. There were many major incidents they shared together and continue to talk about to this day.
“Since becoming Deputy Captain of our brigade in 2019, it is a priority for me to work hard to ensure my crews safety. I thoroughly enjoy mentoring the team and hope that I have many more years to go within the RFS,” she said.
Alicia’s RFS volunteer work fits hand in glove with many of Hume Community Housing’s values, particularly ‘Creators of Connectivity’ which embraces being passionate about people, families, and community. When you are fighting a raging bush fire that is threatening homes, lives and communities, it is a perfect match.
Alicia’s fire experience is valued at Hume, as she is also a Chief Fire Warden at the Maitland Office. Employees and customers are in very good hands, as RFS training is layered and thorough.
“You have to learn a multitude of skills from wielding a chain saw and operating fire-fighting and breathing apparatus equipment, to training how to lead people and liaise with the community,” she said.
“When I completed my basic firefighter training and attended my first Hazard Reduction, I was fortunate enough to have my husband as my officer in charge but was completely naïve Once we started our section of the burn – boy did it shock the system as the fire took off! You learn fast,” said Alicia.
Alicia has held a number of RFS positions and, as well as being Deputy Captain, she is also the Secretary, Training Officer and Community Engagement Officer. Previously she served as Station Officer, First Aid Officer, and was responsible for Welfare and a Junior Member Coordinator.
“My current goals within the RFS are to be able to provide education to my around property protection and fire awareness,” said Alicia.
“Another is working towards becoming a part of the Incident Management Team and to assist with deployments within the state so I can further utilise my community Liaison and Community Safety skills.”
The female to male ratio is still low in her Brigade – 47 men and two women – so Alicia is always campaigning to get more women involved.
“We are always doing campaigns and women are encouraged in our Brigade, I am hoping numbers increase over time,” she said.
“I really encourage all women, especially Hume customers, who seek to make a difference, to contact the local RFS as you get so much from volunteering and there’s always a job for all, no matter what your abilities, it is really a good feeling to give back to the community.”
Alicia and her family go each Tuesday night to their station with the other volunteers to train, discuss and regroup. The members are on call for emergencies 24/7 but put in only as much as they can.
“There is ample opportunity to obtain qualifications and to progress throughout the RFS as well,” said Alicia.
“If you feel like active firefighting isn’t your thing, ask your local Fire Control Centre about being a part of a support brigade within your area. The support brigades are just as important and critical to the RFS,” she concluded.
Hume has an employee policy that supports volunteers in emergency services so are always flexible in enabling Alicia meet her commitments with the RFS.
If you are interested in getting involved in the RFS contact your local brigade, you can find out where at www.rfs.nsw.gov.au.