RFS firefighter Jack Kelly recognised for 'daunting' first season on firefront in Australia Day Awards

Seventeen-year-old NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Jack Kelly was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards for his firefighting efforts during the 2019-2020 bushfire season. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Seventeen-year-old NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Jack Kelly was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards for his firefighting efforts during the 2019-2020 bushfire season. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Jack Kelly has had a quiet summer. It's a nice change after battling to save his own home and many more in his community from the Black Range fire last school holidays.

The 16-year-old attended his first fire just weeks before that horror blaze. It was the experience he needed to be somewhat prepared for the hellish season he was about to endure.

At 14, Jack followed his dad in joining the Mulloon brigade nearby their property north of Braidwood.

He couldn't take-on the frontline until he turned 16, and had a baptism of fire as the Black Range fire crept to his own back door while he fought to save other's homes.

He was among 5500 people nominated for an Australian of the Year Award in 2021 as a result of his life-saving efforts.

"It was pretty daunting at the time, having a fire so close to home," he said.

"We were at the properties with immediate threat but all you want to do is defend your property, but you just have to not worry about it and just worry about what you have to do.

"The nerves definitely kicked in when it was close to my property, but I had people in my truck that had houses in the same street, so they were keeping calm which helped my stay calm."

From that first day, Jack spent almost every day of his school holidays on the fireground.

"We had the Black Range one which was in our area, then we went up to Tallaganda in the Clyde area," he said.

"We were pretty much everywhere."

A record number of people were nominated for the Australia Day awards in 2021, with 130 finalists selected across the states and territories from 5500 nominees.

Jack is honoured to be among the everyday heroes recognised this year, but says his work is "just something I enjoy".

There are plenty more young people who deserve the recognition for their work on the fire ground, he said.

More have signed up in the aftermath of that horror season as well. Among them, two of Jack's friends.

"I like to think thanks to my influence," he said.

The small Mulloon brigade has ballooned too, from 15 members to more than 30. Jack said that will be instrumental in making their job easier next season.

"[Last summer] had people in our brigade doing week-long shifts pretty much, every day doing 12-hour shifts because we didn't have enough people to rotate," he said.

As he enters year 12, Jack is focused on getting through his final school year before taking on a trade in 2022, but whether it's a rural or city brigade he plans to remain a firefighter as long as he can.

This story 'Pretty daunting': Jack's horror first fire season first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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