By Romy Stephens
Ferntree Gully firefighter Byron Rutgers was one of almost 55,000 CFA volunteers celebrated throughout last week’s National Volunteer Week.
Mr Rutgers has been a member of the Ferntree Gully Fire Brigade for almost 25 years.
Originally from South Africa, he joined the brigade to give back to the local community that accepted him with open arms when he first moved to Australia.
He has been part of the peer support group for most of his time in CFA, which has allowed him to provide meaningful support to his fellow firefighters.
But working in peer support has also presented its challenges for Mr Rutgers.
Like so many others working in the CFA, Black Saturday was one of the toughest events he’s ever faced.
“I worked out of Alexandra, Marysville and Flowerdale. I was working with firefighters that had lost their families,” Mr Rutgers said.
“They were in dire straits because the whole area had been declared a crime scene, people couldn’t get in and couldn’t get out.”
Mr Rutgers was deployed to New South Wales (Port Macquarie, and Bateman’s Bay) twice during last summer’s devastating bushfire season.
He also helped provide peer support for firefighters in both the Upper Murray and East Gippsland regions.
When asked what has allowed him to endure through many years of volunteering with the CFA, Mt Rutgers said it was because he lived by two attitudes in life, a mission and a motto.
He said his mission was to give life meaning, something that being a volunteer firefighter helps achieve for both himself and others.
Meanwhile, his life motto is that “duty is sacred.”
“I see it as my duty to do the best I can as far as keeping up my skills as a volunteer,” he said.
“You’re not always able to go to every call but I see it as my duty to try and attend everything I am able to.”
Mr Rutgers said National Volunteer Week was a chance for people to show their appreciation for what volunteer firefighters do for local communities.
“Most of us firefighters, we don’t expect any medals, we don’t expect any monetary rewards,” he said.
“But National Volunteer Week is a way for people and the community to express gratitude for what we do and that is the one thing that we appreciate most, if people express their gratitude.”