‘Mateship and comradery’: Australia’s soot-covered firefighters

Their faces and uniforms blackened by soot and ash, the Wallan volunteer firefighting team thought they had the blaze they were battling in Australia’s Victoria state under control, aside from a few spot fires started by the floating embers that dotted the sky.

But then the wind changed.

Suddenly, Braydan Fletcher and his team found themselves facing a 150-kilometre-wide wall of flames.

“That’s where your training and your reliance on the team around you kicks in,” the 30-year-old, whose full-time job is a transport operations manager, told Al Jazeera.

The team made a narrow escape, but for Fletcher, it is all part of being one of Victoria’s 59,000 Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers.

“It’s all about being able to protect people,” he said, admitting that while the job can be thrilling at times it can also be scary.

“This has taught me so much about giving rather than taking,” he said back at the Wallan fire station surrounded by his “second family” – a diverse team of men and women ranging from students to tradesmen and academics.

While the waves, toots and thank yous they receive from the locals as they drive towards a job give “a warm feeling of satisfaction”, Fletcher said it was appreciation from his CFA family that meant the most.

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