Thommo used to wear the funny overalls. He’d disappear, every time there was smoke on the horizon.
We didn’t get it. Why would a young bloke leave a pub full of cool drinks, to play with fire trucks and big hoses?
Our home town was surrounded by bush, so Thommo and his mates were always busy in summer. A few times I saw him after fighting fires. Covered in soot and ash, and stinking of smoke.
Eventually, we worked it out. Our friend was one of a special breed. Heroes, who risk their lives, to save others. From the most frightening of foes.
Time and again, they’d head into the scrub. Saving the day, before flames reached properties.
Their actions were repeated in towns across the nation. Men and women, from all walks of life. Standing as one, against the flames.
Talk to them, and they’ll tell you about the heat. Like a furnace. And even more terrifying, the noise. An unimaginable roar, heading up hills and down gullies.
Years later, another mate rang me, from his roof. He could see a bushfire coming towards his street. His girls had gone. He was armed with a garden hose, and a beer.
In the end, he didn’t need either. More good luck than good management. The fire took a different path. As these awful beasts sometimes do.
Then there are other times, when no amount of hoses or stubbies are enough. When the bravest of firefighters simply shake their heads. That’s what NSW is facing now.
There are fears massive fires will join as one. Almost unthinkable.
There is only one thing guaranteed. That the heroes in overalls will stand their ground. Follow their training. And do everything in their power to protect the communities facing danger.
At the opposite end of the scale, are the firebugs, and the looters. Lowest of the low. Whatever the penalties are, double them.
Thommo no longer fights fires. He’s done his bit. The younger ones are in charge now. But he will be anxious today, and tomorrow. Looking to the horizon. Thinking of his mates. And smelling smoke in the air.