Fighting fire is a family affair


Fighting fire
is a family affair

words nikita skuse
PHOTOGRAPHY pete thornton
>> Freeling CFS Captain Ricky Noakes

“Everything we do revolves around families,” Freeling CFS Captain Ricky Noakes, says of his brigade, and one by one members of these families trickle into his dining room, greeting each other with kisses and handshakes. 

They all sit around the table with the classic Australian centrepiece of cabana and Jatz.

There’s a cheeky high-schooler with a smile of braces, a quiet kindergarten teacher pregnant with her first child, a whiskered and humble retiree, and everything in between.

“The past, present and future of Freeling CFS,” they describe it as.

Joining Ricky is his wife, Deidre (Operational Support) and their twin girls, Emma and Samantha (Firefighters).

Then there’s Jason (Senior Fire Fighter/Cadet Co-ordinator) and Vicky Gale (Operational Support) and their son, Luke (Cadet), along with Paul Lucantoni (Firefighter/Ex-Captain) and his son, Matthew (Service Lieutenant 2).

“Freeling CFS has 76 years of history and a lot of it involves families,” Ricky says.

“We’ve got 12 or so families involved in the brigade, and more coming up with members who have kids that are wanting to start.”

At this family get together they reminisce about everything from that time a cadet did his ankle chasing girls, to the sobering day they arrived at a fatality and had to comfort a girl sobbing at the scene, to the time they were only supposed to be working down the road but ended up in Port Augusta.

This last anecdote of being overworked is a common thread throughout conversation.

“You could do 12 hours work and then ‘bang’ goes your pager and you’re up for another six or seven hours,” Paul explains.

“I remember that Mount Bold job. We were out there for 23 hours, the one job, station to station,” Ricky adds.

“I remember doing a night shift in year 12 then going to school the next day after no sleep and the pager going off again,” Matthew chimes in.

“It’s just the nature of the beast, and it all comes back onto the families at home picking up the pieces,” Paul says.

“Yeah,” Matthew agrees, “I remember sitting at home and hearing the phone ring and mum talking to you saying, ‘Hi love, ugh, alright, yep, I guess I’ll see ya when I see ya.’”

Everyone laughs because they’ve all either had or heard this same phone conversation a million times when someone’s been called out to a job at a moment’s notice.

>> Sisters Samantha Kearney and Emma Noakes
>> Father & son Luke and Jason Gale

The group has been through a lot like this together but remain incredibly modest about their volunteer work.

“We’re a pretty laid-back brigade. I mean, we take our training and incidents very seriously but we’re not like some brigades that parade around,” Ricky says.

The Freeling CFS is fully rooted in these families and the ways they have grown together. 

Thinking back, they realise Kapunda High student, Luke wasn’t even born when the Noakes’ twins became cadets, and now at age 15 he’s the leader of the brigade’s current group of eager teens.

Matthew has even been with the brigade since around the age of 8, formerly starting as a Cadet when he was 11, and now gets to boss his dad, Paul around out in the field.

“What’s great when dad and I get on a truck though is if I’m a little bit iffy about something I know I’m more than comfortable to go to dad and say, ‘How would you handle this?’ and he will tell me straight up,” Matthew says.

“Because he does have the experience, it’s always good to bounce ideas off him and get that experience back.”

“It is really relationship building,” Vicky continues.

“It’s camaraderie with your kids or with your family because it’s like, it might sound stupid, but quality time, because it’s one of those things that you can do together, an interest that you can have together.

“But we can’t let the CFS take over our family,” Deidre adds, everyone nodding in agreeance, very much understanding the balance needed to make things work.

“I do it for these people, I’ve got no delusions about going to fight fires. If it wasn’t for the camaraderie in the brigade, I wouldn’t go. I’d walk away.”

- Ricky Noakes
>> Representatives of the Freeling CFS firefighting family. Left to right: Luke Gale, Jason Gale, Rick Noakes, Samantha Kearney, Emma Noakes, Matthew Lucantoni, Paul Lucantoni.

The family dog, a small, fluffy thing, waddles in and out of people’s legs, waiting for some belly rubs from one of the many familiar hands at the table as the conversation moves towards advice for bushfire season preparation.

Jason puts it simply, “Become educated.”

The group strongly recommends engaging with local brigades to learn.

They say, “Come to the meetings if the CFS is putting on a bushfire awareness session.

“Contact your brigade and ask questions. Don’t just listen to everything that is said on Facebook.”

When it comes to these peak seasons though, the group say their main motivator is this second family they’ve created.

“I do it for these people,” Ricky says. 

“I’ve got no delusions about going to fight fires. If it wasn’t for the camaraderie in the brigade, I wouldn’t go. I’d walk away.

“You wouldn’t get up at three o’clock in the morning to do something if you didn’t like the people you’re doing it with, no matter what you’re doing it’s true. The people that are in it, that’s what keeps me going.”

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