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December 04, 2019
Why I’m on the frontline this bushfire season
By: Andrew Gardner

As well as holding down a demanding global role, Andrew also finds time to be a local hero, using his emergency services leave and flex work to defend homes and lives against the worst bushfire season on record. He says his work for the NSW Fire and Rescue (Fire+Rescue) is the perfect balance for a virtual IT role, keeping him fit and energised.

This is my third year with the NSW Fire and Rescue, and I’ve never seen anything like the conditions we’re experiencing this spring. The catastrophic combination of drought and hotter temperatures mean we’re facing the worst bushfire season on record. The fires in NSW already cover four times the land area that burned during the whole of 2018.

Brisbane at its best: Family life is key to a balanced work life for me.

I was on the way back from a working job (structure fire) in that one, so a little tired, but relieved we did a great job and there were no injuries.

I signed up with the NSW Fire and Rescue because I needed to do something tangible. I work in a global IT role, mostly from my home office. While I love the work, and am proud of what we achieve, it can be a bit unreal. Everything I do is virtual. I’m sitting at a desk talking to people in Japan, India or Thailand – and I never see the end result.

Frontline firefighting, rescues and hazmat work – that’s the opposite. Hands on, physical and immediately rewarding. In the NSW Fire and Rescue they say: “You have your best day when someone else is having their worst.” It’s so true. You’re right there making an immediate difference in someone’s life. And, sometimes, you’re saving it.

I joined on the advice of my Accenture mentor. Working in a global role means unconventional hours to accommodate different time zones, so it’s easy to feel that work takes up your life. My mentor suggested I use my flex time properly and make sure I get out during the day and go to the gym – and maybe find some volunteering work. When I mentioned the NSW Fire and Rescue, he was so supportive that he went out and joined NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS)!

Brisbane at its best: Family life is key to a balanced work life for me.

With my mentor Peter Haddock, who I first discussed about strategies in effectively working the unusual hours in my current role and planted the ‘seed’ to look into joining Fire + Rescue. He then went on to join the RFS and we took this photo on a visit to the Accenture Sydney office at Barangaroo in our respective uniforms.

Being in NSW Fire and Rescue sounds very full on. But sometimes you go 3 or 4 days without any calls – and you don’t have to respond to everything. Yesterday, I just went out for a couple of hours to do some impact assessment. When I’m on standby, I pack my laptop and work from the fire station!

Every now and then it’s something big or extended, like a few weeks ago when we had so many fires out of control with resources stretched quite thin. In those longer duration jobs with fire and rescue, you can be out for 18-20 hours.

I do get scared. But the training prepares you for that. And the adrenaline kicks in and carries you through. You’re taking a calculated risk and you’re there with people who’ve got your back. I know I can rely on any one of my plsatoon to drag me out if I get into trouble.

My platoon consists of 20 people. We’re all best mates. We have a group chat and regular catch ups. My three daughters and my lovely partner are hugely supportive. They understand how important this work is.

Brisbane at its best: Family life is key to a balanced work life for me.

With most of my platoon, taken just before we completed the Sydney Eye stair climb, which is an annual charity event where we raise funds for MND research. Our team came third in the state that year, raising over $20k.

When I was 4, I wanted to be a fire fighter, but then life got in the way. Today, I absolutely love being able to do both IT and Fire and Rescue. It’s very hard work, but I get to play with big boys’ toys and race around in a fire truck!

I think my community work makes me more well-rounded as a person. It also keeps me fit and energised. I’m very busy with work, and you’d think Fire and Rescue on top of that would be exhausting – but it’s not. I come back psyched and full of energy. I feel great!

It’s going to be a very long summer for those living near the bush across Australia. We’ve been advised that these larger fires will not be out for months and, with the hotter weather forecast until March, we’re bracing for more catastrophic level fire days ahead.

Please consider signing up as a volunteer to support the rural fire services in your state (NSW, QLD, VIC, WA). You don’t have to be a fire fighter. We need help with admin, communications, logistics, catering and more. You’ll make new friends, challenge yourself and engage with your community at a whole new level.

I promise, it will be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.

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