Almost 60 years of fighting fires

By Olivia Duffey

Kevin Barnes is a well-known born and bred Caldwell farmer, but what many might not know is that he is also a firefighter, serving the Rural Fire Service for almost 60 years.

The 74 year-old is captain of the Caldwell Brigade and a member of the Mid Murray Support Brigade, all starting when he left school 59 years ago.

‘‘Everyone joins out there,’’ he said.

‘‘You join to protect your farms, neighbours and community. Many hands make that easier which is the benefit of being in a brigade.

‘‘You can forget about farming and everything else and it is a bit of change to your normal routine.

‘‘Helping people is part of it too and I immensely enjoy it, but it isn’t just one or two things that make it so enjoyable, it is all of it.’’

Mr Barnes served as a deputy and senior deputy captain before becoming Caldwell Brigade’s captain in 2010, a position he still holds today.

He has had the opportunity to lead the brigade, which has seen many changes in the 59 years he has been involved.

‘‘If you saw smoke in the days I started, there was no fires call, it was just the Caldwell fire telephone exchange and the message would get around,’’ Mr Barnes said.

‘‘We also started with a tank on the back of a truck, one of those square ones that used to come out of those sailing ships, the big ones that brought fresh water, and most farms had one.

‘‘It had a hand pump at first and a motor on it after that before being replaced when we bought our own fire truck in ‘71 or ‘72; it was a petrol Austin. 

‘‘The biggest change we saw was when the Mid Murray Zone was formed. Before that, it was just the Murray Shire and Wakool Shire as one unit.’’ 

Moama Brigade’s Fred Darazs, Caldwell Brigade and Mid Murray Support Brigade’s Kevin Barnes and Federation Support Brigade’s Ed Augustin.

Mr Barnes has also been on more than 20 deployments since 2001.

‘‘I did two deployments at the beginning of the year and I recently went on five to help with the fires that are still burning up north, so that is at least seven for this year,’’ he said.

‘‘I remember I went on my first deployment in about 2001 or 2002 on the coast, but before that if you were in the country, you didn’t go.’’

Mr Barnes said there is a role for everyone in their local brigade, even those who don’t want to be on the front line.

Extra members are always needed to help with maintenance, catering, communication, community assistance and much more.

‘‘Some people can’t stand fires but still want to be involved, but a lot of people don’t know that you can still be a part of it,’’ he said.

‘‘There are plenty of things to be done away from the front line, especially in the Mid Murray Support Brigade, but also within any brigade.

‘‘So, I encourage people to give it a go, because the firefighting community is a supportive community and it gives you the chance to give back.

‘‘It is a team effort and I think in any call-out, training or interaction with members, you have as much to learn from them as they do from you.’’

For more information or to pick up a membership form, head to the Mid Murray Fire Control Centre at the Deniliquin Airport, phone 03 5881 4100 or contact your local brigade.