5 minutes with our Bundaberg Branch President Nathan Freeman
We spent 5 minutes with Nathan to learn a little more about him and how he contributes to the local community.
Nathan, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am Bundy born and bred. I’ve lived here my whole life apart from a few years that I went to university down in Brisbane. I’ve been a professional town planner in Bundaberg for the past 16 years, predominantly in the private sector. I started off working for Queensland Transport as a student planner, and when the opportunity to move back home came up, I took it with both hands. I now work as Head of Planning, Infrastructure and Assets for Greensill Farming Group. Bundaberg is a fantastic place to live, everything’s on the doorstep here and it’s got the benefits of the reef and beautiful coast close by.
Now you’re involved in the emergency service. Tell us what that involves for you.
I am currently a Lieutenant auxiliary firefighter with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services. I have been an auxiliary firefighter for10 years in October. I got involved through a friend of mine who I went to school with. He was involved in the fire service as an auxiliary and I was looking for something a bit different. My job is generally a paperwork desk job, so I was looking for something that was a bit challenging. When the opportunity came up to join the fire service, I thought it would be a great way to help the community but also to get out of the office and start doing a bit more physical activity. It has been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. I thoroughly enjoy my role as a first responder in the community. I used to get given a bit of a hard time from my former boss saying that I was a part time town planner and a full-time firefighter. I’ve only recently moved in the rank of Lieutenant, which involves managing the crew. Obviously, this job has it has its ups and downs. You generally see people that are at their worst, but the opportunity to assist in those times is incredibly rewarding. I get to be one of the first people on the ground to try and help them recover and pick up the pieces.
We work off a pager system which has just been recently updated to an SMS system, but ultimately, I can get a call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re required to drop everything and attend to those jobs, which can take me away from family time and my job. I am incredibly lucky to have an understanding wife, kids and employer. They understand that anytime I get pulled away, it is for the benefit of the community.
Last summer was one of the worst fire seasons that Australia has ever had. Bundaberg had some significant blazes to deal with. How was that experience for you?
As an urban crew, we generally support our rural firefighters and volunteer firefighters as much as we can. Our job generally in a wildfire situation is structural protection so we’re there to look after any structures in harms way. Naturally we have plenty of cross-over but I have to take my hat off to anyone that volunteers and has a go, especially the rural firefighters. They leave their jobs and families to put themselves on the front line for the community. Last summer there were some volunteers worked weeks on end to support their local community.
One of my job last summer during the fires was to fill up aircraft at the airport with water so they could undertake air attack operations. My personal property was under threat at the time, and we couldn’t get access. I didn’t know if it was under direct threat or not. It was one of those experiences where I had to try and forget about my personal situation and concentrate on helping the greater community. Because of the significant duration of the fire, we didn’t know when we would be able to get back to normal so having understanding employers and family was really important. It allowed us to focus on the job at hand, instead of having that external pressure. The community support during that time was extraordinary. To say we became closer as a community after would be an understatement. People show their true natures during times of community stress and I am incredibly proud of how the Bundaberg and wider community came together during that difficult time.
What would be your advice to any of our members that are looking to come more involved in the local community?
Find something that interests you, or you are passionate about, and put your hand up to help. Nobody is going to come and tap you on the shoulder and ask you to come and join. It’s quite easy to sit back and not be involved. You’ll find it immensely rewarding and you’ll get a far better understanding about how an organisations run once you do put your hand up and get involved. There are so many great organisations, doing great things in your local community, but desperately need volunteers.
What was the last fire emergency job you were involved in?
It was the fire at the Spotted Dog Tavern which spread to the Federal Backpacker Hostel. It destroyed a 120-year-old building that was quite iconic in the main street of Bundaberg.
I got the call at about 10:45pm and we didn’t leave until 8am the next morning. We had multiple crews on site with about 40 firefighters in total. We received support from as far south as the Sunshine Coast to try and help combat that fire. It was almost 20 years to the day that the tragic Palace Backpackers Hostel fire occurred in Childers. In that fire, there was significant loss of life. After the Childers fire, the hostel industry went through significant reform to ensure particular steps were taken so that a tragedy such as that wouldn’t happen again. The recent Federal Backpackers fire was a great example of how that reform ensured that 63 backpackers got out safely through alarm systems and upgraded evacuation routes. This fire has given me a new appreciation of all the regulation that our industry follows when constructing new buildings or renovating older buildings to protect occupants.