#SurviveTheDrive: Familiar faces in the wreckage

EVERYDAY HEROES: When Culcairn Fire and Rescue's Donna Simmons, Captain Barry Fisher, Craig Hall and Cameron Knust get a call, they never know whether they're responding to a friend or neighbour. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE
EVERYDAY HEROES: When Culcairn Fire and Rescue's Donna Simmons, Captain Barry Fisher, Craig Hall and Cameron Knust get a call, they never know whether they're responding to a friend or neighbour. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

The star picket and a bunch of flowers are always there.

They stand as a vivid reminder to Barry Fisher that when disaster strikes, it’s not always strangers who need help.

It’s something the Culcairn Fire and Rescue captain learnt early in his career.

“It happened a long time ago, but it still comes very vividly to me,” Mr Fisher says.

“The young bloke who died, he was only 13 years old – he was my mate’s son.

“I drive past the point probably every second day when I go to my mate’s farm.”

In a small town, there’s usually a connection – a link between those crossing in the street, a familiarity between neighbours. 

But for those who respond on Culcairn’s darkest days, there is no comfort in connection.

Mr Fisher was the third person at the scene on that awful day.

“I’ll never lose the thoughts about it,” he says.

“That one sticks in my mind forever and a day.

“Every time I drive past the memorial, it springs to mind again.”

Mr Fisher has been with the rescue group for 25 years, heading a Community First Responder team who attend fires, medical emergencies and car crashes.

The nine-person team provides medical care while an ambulance travels from Holbrook.

They’re professionals but they’re also people who form part of the fabric of a tightly knit town.

In a place where everyone is linked, the pain of fatalities permeates the streets.

“It affects the whole town because everyone knows that person in some way or another,” Mr Fisher says. 

“Their relationship is that they are a member of the football club, the golf club, the bowling club or the cricket club.

“They've associated with these people; whether it’s just line-of-sight seeing these people in the supermarket right down to their best mate.”

For first responders, it’s no different. 

“That’s one of the harder things – you do know everyone,” Mr Fisher says. 

“We go to virtually everything that happens in the town.

“It's a big impact on the guys because every door we walk through it’s ‘I know Mr and Mrs So-and-So’ or ‘I know the little child’.”

When Culcairn Fire and Rescue receive a call about a road crash, they are told the bare facts – but not who they will be trying to help.

“We’ve had a few crashes where guys have got out of the truck and said ‘I know that car’,” Mr Fisher says.

The team protects each other.


“If you don’t need to be at a scene, you don’t need to be at a scene, especially at a fatality,” Mr Fisher says.

“It’s their choice if they want to come down and have a look, but if you see it, you see it.

“And you need to deal with seeing that after – that’s the hardest part.”

Donna Simmons believes responding to someone you know is inevitable. 

Peer-support systems are in place to ensure responders have help when they need it and everyone looks after each other when a traumatic event occurs.

“We support each other,” Mr Fisher says. 

“You can see people when they change; they’ll either be very quiet or very noisy and it’s for a reason.

“Everyone is different, no one is the same, you can’t say this is how it works because it doesn’t work like that, everyone is different.”

After seeing the grief ricochet through a small town, the team finds it hard to understand why people continue to risk their lives on the roads. 

Nine-year Fire and Rescue veteran Craig Hall says it’s hard to get the community to understand they are in danger every time they step into a car.

“It’s the arrogance of ‘It won’t happen to me’, that’s what it is, ‘It won’t happen to me I’m safe’,” he says.

But on the road, no one is safe. 

Illegal substances and distractions while driving, especially mobile phones, are killing people across the region.

Mr Fisher says “every day, without fail” he sees someone driving while looking at their phone.

“I just think, ‘Why are you doing this?’,” he says.

“You can see their car veering across the side of the road.

“The phone, the alcohol, and drugs – if we could eradicate those problems we wouldn’t have many fatalities.”

Despite the confronting nature of his job, Cameron Knust says he wouldn’t trade it for anything else. 

“You are helping your town out,” he says.

“You get a real sense of pride when you help someone who is in the worst state they can be, at the time they’re very vulnerable and you’re there to help. 

“It’s a good feeling.”

Mr Fisher says the team are well respected within the town, having been there to support many people in their time of need. 

There is room for three more people on the team, with Fire and Rescue applications open online.

Mr Fisher says he’d love to see the team running at full strength – but that’s not his only hope.

This Christmas, the dedicated crew has one festive dream – to be out of work.

“We’d be quite happy if we never got a call again,” Mr Fisher says.

“At the end of the day it’d just be nice to see everyone get home and have a nice Christmas.

“The last thing you want is to have a crash.

“That is someone’s child or mum or dad in the car – what sort of Christmas is that family going to have?”

For more #SurviveTheDrive stories, click the image.

For more #SurviveTheDrive stories, click the image.