For 50 years Relbia has been home to a dedicated group of volunteer firefighters.
From its humble beginnings in 1967 the Relbia Volunteer Fire Brigade has grown from “just one little tanker” sitting out in a paddock to a respected and much-needed local service.
It was after the devastating Black Tuesday bushfires that the Relbia brigade was formed, along with a number of other volunteer stations across the state.
During the early days of the station, firefighters would drive that one little tanker to incidents, with no uniforms, no helmet or protective gear, and put out blazes with their one hose.
About 25 people made up the initial crew.
Now, five decades later, five of the original volunteers are still part of the team – Jim Langden, Edwin Chugg, John Gee, Greg Wise and Rodney Springer.
Combined the five men have completed 250 years of service.
For Mr Springer, becoming a volunteer led him to pursuing a job as a career firefighter in Launceston.
In his 50 years of fighting fires, he has continued to volunteer at Relbia, but retired from his career duties about five years ago.
While he said wearing two hats – career and volunteer- was a challenge, it was nothing compared to the tragedies he and his fellow firefighters faced daily.
“The hard part is that when you live in the community, if there’s an accident, the chance of you knowing that person is very high,” Mr Springer explained.
“You always remember your first death in a fire, and your first road death, but I don’t like to talk about it much.”
For volunteers in particular, working in remote and rural areas, they are often the first at the scene of a crash.
“I guess there’s a switch, you get your pager call, you get in the truck and you flick that switch and you sort of go into an operational mode,” Mr Springer said.
“You don’t forget, sometimes you wake up at 2am and you can see that charred body in the house, or that little child in the car, but you talk it through with your peers.”
It was that support from his fellow volunteers that made being part of the team for 50 years so rewarding, he said.
“There’s not much we wouldn’t do for each other, there’s a real bond.”
While Mr Springer still remembers the days of having no gear and fighting fires in the trousers he wore while working around the house, the station has since evolved.
“We started off with that old tanker sitting out in the open in the paddock, then we built a little shed, then got another tanker, and got the fire station built at Relbia,” he said.
The original tanker was restored about three years ago and still sits at the station.
“We’re very proud of it.”
On Monday night, the efforts of each Relbia volunteer will be recognised as they gather to mark the 50-year anniversary.
Current brigade chief Mario Bergamin, who has been a volunteer firefighter for about 15 years, said Relbia was a community-focused station.
“Many of the members who are still in the brigade, their families were members of the initial group of people who set the brigade up,” he said.
“Our focus is to promote the Tasmania Fire Service values and respond to incidents in the wider community, and we are thankful TFS is such a great organisation to work with, we are really lucky.”
Praising the efforts of the volunteers who had served for the entire 50 years, Mr Bergamin said it was a remarkable achievement.
“Today we have lots of people who volunteer, but it’s a much more transient population,” he said.
“Their voluntary contribution has been amazing over the 50 years.”
Not only will each volunteer receive a medal to mark the station’s anniversary during Monday night’s ceremony, but the five remaining original members will receive medals for their five decades.
“It will be about recognising not only the members of our brigade, but the families who support them,” Mr Bergamin said.
“When you go to a fire, you need the support of your family, so it’s important to recognise them as well as the local community.”
The station still has more than 20 active members, with new volunteers continuing to sign up each year.
If you or someone you know would like to become a volunteer or find out more information phone the TFS Northern Regional Office on 6336 5633.
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