Local Singleton resident Mitchell Tull joined the NSW Rural Fire Service when he was just sixteen.
Then as a nineteen-year-old, he joined the 444 Fire & Rescue in Singleton as an on-call firefighter. Working for the Fire Brigade from Monday to Friday, Mitchell is on standby ready to leap into action when the calls come in.
What was your experience of the Catastrophic November bush fires this year?
I attended three major fires. Two of them went to an emergency warning, and the other was a watch and act. We were deployed to fight the Greta and North Rothbury Fires. There was a large fire in Whittingham about 5 kilometres from Singleton that ripped through 16 hectares on the corner of the Golden Highway and New England. A lot of our crew have also recently been away on strike teams, where they were deployed for seven days fighting fires on the North Coast, Glenn Innes and Tamworth.
It looks as if it’s the toughest job in the world?
There is no middle ground with a bush fire. Either you’re waiting for it to turn up or you can’t take a breath! It’s very tiring and taxing on the body. You’re out in the heat, smoke and the dust. There’s no escape from it, or any area where you can sit down and have a cold drink.
Do you fear for your safety in those conditions?
No, not particularly, I’ve spent nearly ten years trying not to get hurt. If you spent your time thinking about that, you’d never get off the truck! Our training in how to deal with bushfires comes into play. Fire & Rescue provide a lot of protection around structures and homes. It’s still very dangerous, but it’s part of the job and part of living in Australia.
I’ve heard that you also have a second job?
I’m on permanent weekend dog watch (night shift) at the Glencore Mine in Singleton as a Longwall Mining Shearer operator. I work with a tight crew of eight other people. There’s a similarity between being a coal miner and firefighter. When you’re 600 metres beneath the earth, you’ve got to be able to rely on your team like you do when you’re entering a burning building. It’s all about the crew and looking out for your mates.
You’re a local born and bred. What made you want to raise your family in Singleton?
Obviously, my work is in Singleton, so it’s very convenient! The fire station is just two blocks from my house, and the pit is 10 minutes away. All my family and friends live here. My wife is a local Singleton girl. We met ten years ago when she went to Newcastle University with some of my mates and have now been married for four years. Now we’ve got kids we wanted to give our children the same opportunity to grow up in a tight-knit community. I love that I have lifelong mates who still live here such as my Singleton Bulls rugby mates. Singleton offers a lot of possibilities. It’s not the small country town it once was, now that there are 30,000 people here. However, Singleton people are still very community-minded, and when tragic events occur, people pull together.
You would have witnessed that Singleton community spirit during the recent bushfires, no doubt?
We have had so many people trying to drop things off at the station for us. As we are paid to do our jobs, we politely ask that donations and care packages are given to the Rural Fire Service (RFS), as the RFS volunteers don’t get paid. Our Facebook page was inundated with messages and support. However, we aren’t doing our job for the recognition. I don’t see it as different as a baker going to work and baking, or the butcher cutting meat. Firefighting has always been a part of me, and probably always will be. However, if you go thinking that you’re a bit of a hero, you’ll turn into one. You’ve got to put that behind you and focus on what is in front of you.
Some people would disagree with you about being a hero. You were one of the first on the scene and inside at the Brittliffe Close house fire in June this year?
That was a terrible tragedy that resulted in the deaths of three children. That fire will stay with me forever. My son was born the following week, and it hit home hard. Now a massive part of my role in the fire brigade is prevention. If we can stop fires from happening, it’ll keep everybody safe. We promoted a huge home fire safety check checking on over 1000 homes in Singleton. People were reminded to have a home evacuation plan, and check smoke alarms at daylight savings changeovers.
Do you have any tips for bushfire prevention?
We’re asking people to clean their gutters, become familiar with the RFS app or website so they are up to date with what is happening and obviously, have an escape plan if they’re in an area that can be impacted by bushfires. Resources are stretched thin in the time of catastrophic and extreme events. If we can get people to manage their hazards beforehand, it frees up resources.
Your life sounds hectic! How do you chill out?
Singleton is an excellent place for running. I’ll put on my headphones and run for an hour. I’m country music tragic, so I’ll be running to likes of Blake Sheldon or Brad Paisley. Another great thing about Singleton is that we get world-class performers performing nearby I went to Crossroads Country In The Vines in 2018 and saw Billy Ray Cyrus and Lee Kernaghan.
Thank you for talking to me and thank you for your service, Mitchell.