Wingham-based Wallaby Joe Rural Fire Brigade triples in size after Black Summer bushfires

Some of the new Wallaby Joe recruits attending training in March before the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: supplied
Some of the new Wallaby Joe recruits attending training in March before the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: supplied

The Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020 had one positive outcome for Rural Fire Service brigades across NSW - a surge of new recruits joining up.

The Wingham-based Wallaby Joe brigade was no exception. Following a single post on their Facebook page asking for interested potential volunteers, 61 people people turned up on the first open night.

From these 61 people 20 people registered to become members, taking the brigade from 10 to 30 volunteers.

The new recruits started basic firefighting training in February, however the coronavirus pandemic has stymied progress.

"It's put a damper on things. We couldn't train there for a while," brigade captain, Kristian Guppy said.

"We've just got all these new recruits going through, and we were really pushing and getting through training, and all of a sudden it just goes bang, stop. What are we going to do? We can't do anything. I think that might have shaken a few of them up."

With the easing of restrictions, training has resumed, but the full contingent of new recruits has eased off.

"I think over the winter months, with these colder nights people are hanging back at home a bit. But we've got a few people that are constantly turning up on Tuesday nights," Kristian said.

"But hopefully out of all this recruitment we are able to become a really strong brigade and move forward."

Past and present: The Wallaby Joe brigade was awarded Community Group of the Year at the Taree 2020 Australia Day Awards. Pictured at the awards are then captain Bob Pope (right) and present captain Kristian Guppy (left) with president John Dorrington. Photo: supplied

Past and present: The Wallaby Joe brigade was awarded Community Group of the Year at the Taree 2020 Australia Day Awards. Pictured at the awards are then captain Bob Pope (right) and present captain Kristian Guppy (left) with president John Dorrington. Photo: supplied

New captain at the helm

Earlier this year, Wallaby Joe RFS captain, Bob Pope, handed over the mantle to Kristian Guppy.

Bob has been a member of the Wallaby Joe brigade for 36 years, and was captain for 20 years.

After the Black Summer bushfires Bob retired from the job of captain and took a well-earned break from the brigade. He has since returned, with his wealth of knowledge of not only firefighting, but our area, and is now the deputy captain three.

He was a long serving captain and did really well for the brigade and the Wingham and Wallaby Joe area.

Kristian Guppy, Wallaby Joe Rural Fire Brigade captain

"He's still got that crew leader experience for the brigade," Kristian said.

"He was a long serving captain and did really well for the brigade and the Wingham and Wallaby Joe area. He wanted to retire and felt it was time for somebody new to step up and take over and take the brigade."

Kristian joined the Country Fire Authority (CFA), the Victorian counterpart to the NSW RFS, when he was just 14. While a member of the Ballan CFA brigade, he held the position of captain for eight years. He was captain of the brigade during the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009.

When Kristian and his family relocated to Wingham five years ago, Kristian immediately joined the Wallaby Joe brigade.

"If you've got that in your blood already you might as well keep it going," he said.

"I thought 'it's a nice little town, a nice little brigade, I'll join these guys'. Then I realised when I joined I was one of the youngest members to join. We've got a few that are in the higher ranking age bracket!"

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