THE biggest fire that 73-year-old John Helmood can remember in over 40 years of fire fighting was when the Vanity Picture Theatre burned down in Lismore in the 1950s. That was when he was in the Lismore Fire Brigade, and in those days, they used to put out grass fires with sticks and rags.
"I've lived in Goonellabah since 1939 and used to own the corner shop here," John said.
"Because I was in business and knew everyone in the local area, in 1972 I was asked to start the local Goonellabah Fire Brigade."
Forty years on, the Goonellabah Fire Brigade is now celebrating its 40th birthday and brigade members, young and old, came together this week to reminisce and enjoy the camaraderie that goes with being a firie.
Over the past 40 years, the Goonellabah Fire Brigade has had only four captains, with John being the first, followed by Kevin Muldoon, Ray Eggins and now the current captain, David Ferguson. The brigade has also grown in numbers, from 12 volunteer members in 1972 to a full complement of 18 now.
Dean Snape is one of the retained firefighters currently working with the brigade and has been fighting fires for the past 10 years. The most significant fire Dean can remember attending was the Norply fire at Kyogle about six years ago - it took took three days to put out. The brigade responds to about 500 calls per year and while the current firies are paid to be on call, they all have other jobs to go to.
"Sometimes my pager alarm will go off while I'm sitting down to the family dinner, or at my other workplace," Dean said.
"Our families and employers need to be understanding if a call comes through."
Firefighters are a bit like superheros as they respond to an emergency with superhuman speed; dash to the car, get changed into uniform and in the fire truck within 10 minutes.
"There are lots of false alarms, though, when fire protection alarms in buildings go off," Dean said.
"We also assist at car accidents and do fire prevention training."
The brigade has just recruited some new members and is always looking for new firies, but be aware, it takes dedication and commitment to a monthly training regime. All the local firefighters live near the station and Dean agrees the job is a vocation.
"It can be dangerous going into a burning home and lots of times firefighters don't get the recognition they deserve for turning up to a fire call, but it's a big family and it takes a willingness to help and do good for the public."