Australia’s first all-Aboriginal Fire and Rescue NSW platoon has made its home in Redfern in a pivotal moment for the community.

The platoon arose from the Indigenous Fire and Rescue Employment Strategy (IFARES) program.

Firefighter Lance Tighe, a member of the platoon, said Redfern is a place where a lot of the Aboriginal movements started and that it’s been well-received by the community.

“The community love it. The kids come around and they see a full Indigenous crew. Growing up in Moree, I never saw an Aboriginal person on the fire truck. Only in my teens did I see my late cousin, who was one of the first Aboriginal firefighters. He was someone who set me on this path.”

Tighe hopes that having an Aboriginal platoon in community will inspire the younger generations to chase up opportunities with Fire and Rescue NSW. As a kid growing up, Tighe always aspired to be a firefighter.

“I always wanted to be a firefighter … but I didn’t know if I could do it. I started off in mental health in Moree then I moved to Sydney. One of my mates came through the first IFARES program and I got pulled into it.”

“It was always something I wanted to do but I never thought I could get in. The program is excellent, you do six months in TAFE, you have hands-on experiences with Fire and Rescue, you talk about life in the job … It’s changed a lot of lives and hopefully will change more.”

The influence of the platoon in community has been almost immediate.

“We didn’t realise it was making such an impact on community until we were out walking around, and the kids would come up to have a chat, or pop into the fire station wanting to know what we do. It’s not always a fire—it could be a car accident or installing smoke alarms for the aunties or uncles who don’t have them.”

The team has found a huge interest in kids within the community in pursuing careers as firefighters.

The main thing we try and do is push education. Make sure the kids are staying in school, getting an education and getting some life experience. Everybody who has come through the program are mentoring those coming through now …”

“It’s important for Fire and Rescue NSW to have an all-Indigenous crew, but it’s so important for community in Redfern. We’re breaking down barriers and stigmas.”

By Rachael Knowles