Harvey Bailey was 17 years old when he joined the Dapto Bush Fire Brigade.
There were no waterbomber aircraft back then, to douse fires in bushland inaccessible to road-bound tankers.
Instead, firefighters would walk into the bush with knapsacks capable of holding just 16 litres of water.
“You’d be surprised what you can do with 16 litres,” Mr Bailey, now 69, told the Mercury. “If you’ve been taught how to use one [a knapsack] properly, it can be very effective.”
On Thursday Mr Bailey was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal in honour of his 42-year contribution to volunteer firefighting, including 37 years as captain of Dapto’s Rural Fire Service brigade. The award recognises Mr Bailey’s role as the driving force behind renovations to the Wongawilli fire station, his willingness to mentor others, and the role he played in establishing a live fire training facility in the region in the 1990s.
His work has taken him to fires around Grafton, Coonabarabran, Burrinjuck Dam and Canberra. He was among crews who helped clean up Wollongong after the 1998 floods, when he spent half a day shoveling mud out of a home.
“There was a piano in it, and there was mud up to almost the top of the keyboard,” Mr Bailey recalled.
Despite his years of service, Mr Bailey only looks as far back as Tuesday to recall one of his favourite moments on the job.
His team was called to St Georges Basin for day four of the search for missing grandfather James Simpson. They found him.
“He was laying on the ground but was responsive and everything,” Mr Bailey said. “It was very good to find him alive. That’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”
Also celebrated on Thursday was Lake Illawarra Command’s Senior Constable Paul Jones, who made the Australia Day Honours list.
Sen Con Jones was involved in an off-duty motorcycle crash at Port Kembla in 1982. He returned to work 15 weeks later, performing office-related tasks from a wheelchair, with the use of only one arm, for 12 years. He became manager of the Berkeley Incident Centre in 1997, responsible for probing serious incidents and often protracted investigations.
He was integral to every investigation from 1997 to 2010, when the facility was transferred to the police station at Oak Flats, where he continues to manage the incident room today.