Navy Engineering Branch engineer Simon Sykes recently received a NSW Premier’s Bushfire Emergency Citation for his volunteer firefighting work during last season's bushfires.

He in turn paid tribute to the Department of Defence for supporting his volunteer role.

The citation acknowledged the three weeks Mr Sykes spent on the fire front late last year.

“We were back-burning in areas where fires were climbing up trees 50-60m tall and the flames were up to 15m high,” he said. 

“They were long days, with intense heat and lots of smoke.”

Mr Sykes has been a NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) volunteer for more than 15 years.

The community service leave in the Department of Defence’s Enterprise Agreement allows volunteers like Mr Sykes additional time off work.

“Lots of people on the fire ground were taking their own personal leave to volunteer, but they weren’t getting any downtime. They were working hard,” Mr Sykes said. 

“It’s important to recognise workplaces that support volunteer services because that support allows people to give back to their communities.”

In NSW during the last bushfire season, 26 lives were lost, 2500 homes were destroyed and 5.5 million hectares of land was burnt.

The NSW Bushfire Inquiry highlighted that NSW RFS volunteers were crucial to the 2019-20 firefighting effort.

Between August 2019 and February this year, NSW RFS members undertook more than 186,000 firefighting shifts, with the vast majority being volunteers. 

Head of Navy Engineering Branch Commodore Colin Dagg said community safety was always a priority, especially in times of adversity.  

“The work all volunteers do in these situations is paramount to the safety of others and I am very proud that the Department of Defence supports their extraordinary efforts,” he said.