Gar­gan­tu­ans of Ex­pe­ri­ence

Hills to Hawkesbury Living Magazine - - Living Legends -

I was warned when I went to in­ter­view this ac­com­plished fire­fight­ing gentleman of Ken­thurst, he is a multi-tal­ented soul! I was still shocked!

Nes­tled next to ‘nearly’ Na­tional Park in Ken­thurst lives Lionel Smith, 17 years re­tired but do­ing more than many men half his age. “Do you re­alise the RFS at­tends fires over 90% Of NSW?” he greets me, when I men­tion I have vis­ited the Metropoli­tan Fire and Res­cue Head­quar­ters in the city.

Ken­thurst RFB re­cently re­alised 75 years of ser­vice. Guess who calmly called up the prin­ter of his beloved Mercedes mag­a­zine, of which he used to be ed­i­tor, for ad­vice to lay­out the 32 page colour history book? “No not PageMaker” they said, so Lionel sat down and learned the in­dus­try stan­dard soft­ware to com­pose the en­tire tome. Re­mark­able! “What do you think of Win­dows 10 he asks?”

Be­ing ‘com­put­er­ate’, he is pres­i­dent of the Com­puter Pals for Se­niors group and was in­stru­men­tal in up­dat­ing them from hand-me-downs to up to the minute tech­nol­ogy. Bril­liant! We are a long way from Win­dows 95 to­day! (Kids - ask your par­ents!)

Lionel Smith is one of the amaz­ingly ex­pe­ri­enced ‘ head’ hon­chos of the Ken­thurst Fire Bri­gade. With many many years of ser­vice un­der his belt, be­gin­ning in Oakville in 1946, he tells of brake drum and hammer alarms passed on smoke sig­nal style by neigh­bours and farm­ers, they then turn­ing up to fight fires in bare feet and shorts. “But they had feet so tough they couldn’t get burnt!” he jokes. Lionel left there to build his cur­rent Ken­thurst home and be­gin life with the lovely Gwen.

In the 1970s pagers rev­o­lu­tionised the com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems. “No ra­dio!” To­day, SMS alerts also sum­mon vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers to ac­tion. Fire­fight­ing has come a long long way.

Clus­ter sub­di­vi­sion is slowly pro­gress­ing, but the progress with emer­gency ser­vices with fire­fight­ing since Lionel has been on the scene has been phe­nom­e­nal. As a Group of­fi­cer and then Deputy Fire Con­trol Of­fi­cer in the 60s, fires were fought with a no for­mal train­ing, nor uni­forms and very lit­tle equip­ment; with ve­hi­cles be­ing con­verted mil­i­tary blitz 4 x 4 and 2 ½ ton trucks. As Hills Fire Con­trol

with 6-700 volunteers as­sist­ing in MVA (mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents) haz­ard re­duc­tion and house fires, he was as­sist­ing at the time of the leg­endary Phil Koper­berg, so in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing fire funding and con­trol un­der a co­or­di­nated emer­gency ser­vices um­brella.

Ex­ten­sive re­search led to Lionel in­vent­ing the ‘Quench­mas­ter’ foam dis­pens­ing sys­tem, the size of a book, man­u­fac­tur­ing it him­self be­tween 1994-8, which trans­formed the prob­lem­at­i­cal use of foam in tankers. Train­ing is now manda­tory and com­pre­hen­sive and equip­ment is su­perbly en­gi­neered to make the job quicker, more ef­fec­tive and safe. Upon re­tir­ing, Lionel re­stored a beloved clas­sic Mercedes Coupe, his wife’s pride to drive, but deemed too pre­cious to deck the su­per­mar­ket car park now. His skills have no bot­tom. Ken­thurst now has evolved from a farm­ing com­mu­nity to a lot of lo­cal residents with busi­nesses or who com­mute to work. Still zoned ‘ru­ral’ ex­cept for the village it­self not too much has changed to the eye. “The peo­ple are good,” he says. “I have a great com­mu­nity, even in my street, and look for­ward to the an­nual Christ­mas street party.”

These days Lionel de­sists from ac­tive front­line fire­fight­ing, giv­ing his en­er­gies to train­ing, haz­ard re­duc­tion and men­tor­ing new mem­bers. They have a lot to learn and look up to! And what does he want to do next? “Stay alive!” is his re­tort. “I have no idea how. Keep ac­tive, eat good food and don’t smoke!”

So when the sleepy ru­ral at­mo­sphere of Ken­thurst is rent by a full-blown fire emer­gency, like the 2002 in­ferno, these stal­wart pre­pared forces are here to pull dis­as­ter back from our lives! Salute these lads and lasses, volunteers, fam­i­lies, fundrais­ers, all. We are blessed…

Meet Lionel and the Ken­thurst or any Ru­ral Fire Bri­gade any Coun­try Fair day, sta­tion Open Days, or you may see them in­struct­ing at the school, fundrais­ing at com­mu­nity events or con­duct­ing ‘Fire­wise’ prac­ti­cal train­ing sem­i­nar.

Lionel him­self at ‘Lionel Smith Ac­tion Cen­tral’

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