Since 1932, the Rural Fire Service has lost 95 firefighters in the line of duty, the largest number being 26 in 2011 and the Black Summer bushfires in 2019 and 2020. Those tragedies remained raw for their families and colleagues.
At the unveiling of the a NSW RFS Memorial Garden in Dubbo on Friday, the former RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons joined his successor Rob Rogers in reflecting on the recent "unprecedented disasters" - drought, bushfire, and floods - where 26 lives were lost.
"It's still fresh [to think of] an extraordinary loss," said Mr Fitzsimmons, currently an embattled commissioner of Resilience NSW department which is about to be scrapped following inquiry findings it has been ineffective in its responses to emergencies.
Mr Fitzsimmons was RFS head from 2007 to 2020, and in the 2019 and 2020 Black Summer bushfires, 13 firefighters were killed, eight in 2019 and five in 2020.
At the time, Mr Fitzsimmons broke down in tears when confirming the deaths of the firefighters during media briefings at the height of the Black Summer bushfires.
Glancing at the crowd gathered at the garden, Mr Fitzsimmons said some of the families of those fallen firefighters he had mourned were at Dubbo on a sombre day when their loved ones were "honoured for sacrificing their own lives to save others".
"Those memories are still very new if you talk to people here today, those emotions come to the fore to reflect on their ultimate sacrifice of people simply serving and protecting their communities, for want of nothing in return but to make a difference," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
"That fire season will go down in our state's history unprecedented in the state's experience. The extraordinary damage and destruction environmentally.
"We had never experienced this scale of disasters in successions in last few years, their compounding effects.
"We're all fatigued, and tired and drained from what we've experienced. We're rolling through significant disruptions, disasters and uncertainty."
The names of the 95 RFS members and contractors killed while on duty were etched on a circular wall made of steel while a statue of an RFS firefighter leaning on a rake hoe was dedicated to their sacrifices so they will always be remembered for all time, Mr Rogers said in addressing the families.
"They put their own lives on the line to protect other people's lives and we are grateful for their service," Mr Rogers, who laid a wreath with Mr Fitzsimmons, said.
Emergency services minister Steph Cooke laid a wreath after addressing the families and current serving RFS members saying having their names in a memorial garden will make people remember that "they bravely stepped up in some of the state's darkest days".
Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders said remembering those firefighters who gave up their lives to protect others seemed like a "small measure of comfort to the loved ones" but he hoped the memorial in Dubbo is one way to show "they will not be forgotten".
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Marine Rescue commissioner Stacey Tannous also came to Dubbo and said interagency emergency responses have "never been better" since the recent disasters the country and the state have experienced because the "events are becoming unpredictable".
"It's the size of events we can't predict and if they come together as sometimes they do, and we've seen it before when we've had fires and floods at the same time, it creates a lot of pressure on emergency services," Mr Tannous said.
Mr Tannous said more than 100,000 volunteers, including 8,000 in paid roles, currently comprise the 24-hour emergency response teams across the country.
"They're all prepared to do what they need to do," Mr Tannous said.
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