SCORCHED SALARIES: Volunteers fire back at PM snub
RURAL firefighters risk not only their lives, but also their income, as they battle some of the harshest and longest burning fires on record.
Fires have flared across the Southern Downs since early September, placing unprecedented strain on the brave men and women who sacrifice salary for their community's safety.
"It's been absolute madness," said Karara Rural Fire Brigade first officer Ian Clark.
"These fires are so hard to put out and keep out because it's just that dry."
His crew has just come off three days of fighting fire at Millmerran, where the men spent upwards of six hours each night pushing through the smoke and heat.
They'd leave work at 5.30pm, head straight to be firefront, then get home by around 3am.
"Then they sleep for a couple of hours and head straight back to work the next day," Mr Clarke said.
Every acting member at the fire service has to juggle their commitment to their community with their commitment to their job.
But the balancing act becomes harder as the fire season drags on.
"You have to keep that income coming in," Mr Clarke said.
"You need to clothe your kids and put food on the table for your family, and unfortunately volunteering doesn't cover that."
Larger organisations such as Wickhams Freightlines are happy to accommodate employees, according to logistics manager Jeff Miller.
"The most important thing is to get the fires taken care of," Mr Miller said.
"They just tell us they need to go and we make it work."
But it can be a lot more difficult for those employed by smaller companies, according to Mr Clarke.
"While the firefighters are out there doing volunteer work there's often no-one to replace them, so that work isn't getting done," he explained.
"If I don't work, I don't get paid and that's just the price you pay."
Ballandean rural fire service officer Graham Parker estimated his business lost over $10,000 in profits during a 10-day long fire earlier in the year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected calls this week to help the fire service volunteers who dedicate many unpaid hours, days, and sometimes weeks to the preservation of their communities.
Morrison's claim that volunteers "want to be there" is disputed by Mr Parker.
"Nobody enjoys going out to all these horrible fires," Mr Parker said.
"No one enjoys the prospect of not seeing their family for a week, or being put in a dangerous situation.
"But you want to look after your community, and that's why you do it."