Rodney Hargrave, current Captain of 475 Uralla NSW Fire and Rescue, tells FOCUS readers about the organisation’s history and its very important service role in our local community. This local fire brigade is the Community First Responder in Uralla, and under traumatic circumstances they do their job, saving many lives …
Remind us of when the Uralla Fire Brigade was first established; what was its main role back in the day?
The Uralla fire brigade (NSWFB) was started on 1st January 1966, following some local fires in previous years. The Uralla brigade initially started with 10 members, is led by Captain Alex Melville, and was dedicated solely to fire control. The station was a single bay shed in the current location in Maitland St, with a watch room/training room and a siren that could be heard all over town, which was still being used in the mid-1990s.
How has the brigade changed and evolved over the years?
The changes in the brigade just in my time have been huge, with almost every aspect of the game changing. Most noticeable are the trucks, firstly from a British made Dennis Ace truck to today having two of the most recent and purpose built appliances being part of our station. Uralla is very fortunate to have the first two original trucks now restored and housed at McCrossins Mill for all to enjoy, thanks to the work of brigade members – especially people like ex-Captain Reg Cooper, ex-firefighter Greg Yates and current firefighter Graham Fletcher.
The station itself was given an extra bay and storage areas that were opened in 1991, and more renovations were completed in 2008. Our turn out systems, radio networks and technology has changed so much with the way we can access information, prepare and react to situations.
The equipment, training and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are constantly being advanced and improved for firefighter safety and efficiency.
Even the name of the brigade was changed in recent years, to reflect the changing roles and responsibilities of the brigade, from New South Wales Fire Brigade to Fire and Rescue New South Wales.
One of the biggest changes has been in community awareness and education programmes, especially in the last 10 years, like school-based education and assistance of elderly and at-risk members of our community.
The Uralla Fire Brigade wears many hats in our community now; what are they?
The Uralla Fire Brigade responds to many different situations now. We have been a primary rescue unit since the late 1980s, attending many road accidents, industrial and domestic incidents and animal rescue calls. We attend hazmat incidents, containing and cleaning up hazardous chemicals.
For around 10 years now we have been responding as a Community First Response team. This has involved a lot of extra training conducted by the members of the New South Wales Ambulance Service and extra gear supplied by ambulance, that basically fills a gap while the ambulance service is responding from Armidale. Oh, and of course we still fight fires.
What is the best and worst part about being a part of this community service?
I guess the best part of the service is being part of the community engagement activities, seeing the smiles on kids’ faces; it’s always good stuff. Even being a part of someone’s worst day can still be a positive thing; just when they know we are locals who care can be a comfort to them, and that can be a good feeling for us. On the other hand, sometimes just knowing the people who are having that bad day is tough; sometimes we just can’t do enough!
Competing in championships (like the one Uralla recently hosted on behalf on Region North 3) – apart from being great training, they are always good fun. Although we don’t often feature on the podium, we are competitive and skilled.
Tell us about the team …
The team now consists of 18 members from many different backgrounds. We currently have 14 qualified primary rescue operators, eight fully trained Community First Response personnel and 17 firefighters, with a further two applicants in the process for our final position. We are all proud of the great contribution our four female and 14 male members are able to make to the welfare of the Uralla community.
I feel the station is a product of our past, with every ex member contributing to where we are now; our ex Captains Neil Cooper, Greg Norris and Phillip Smith have been instrumental in my training and in taking on this role as Captain.
How can someone become a member, and what’s involved?
Anyone can apply either by grabbing a pack from the station or an online application from FRNSW homepage. Day time availability is always a great attribute.
Then, complete an interview, a medical, a physical aptitude test and then 2 x 4 days’ intensive training initially for a new recruit. Firefighters maintain their skills with regular training and drills. But don’t be put off by all that; although it is tough, it’s nowhere near as bad as it sounds.
Plans for the future?
After completing 26 years in the brigade, my time is nearing to move on and let one of the other firefighters continue providing what I believe to be a great service to our community and to embrace the changes that will continue to occur in this essential community service.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank ALL our past members for their service and in many cases guidance, all zone office staff, Ambulance personnel, who continue to support and train us, and the Uralla community for their support over the years.
I have been blessed to be the Captain of a great bunch of people who enjoy serving our community .