The HSC can be a stressful time for most High School students. Imagine cramming for exams after spending 12 hour shifts on the frontline fighting some of the worst bushfires the Blue Mountains have seen in over a decade.
This is what 18 year old Liam Clancy from Blaxland High School has been doing for the past couple of months.
When I spoke to Clancy, he had spent the morning studying and sitting an exam, was in the middle of preparing some work for technical and event production company, Madzin Productions and at 3pm would join fellow volunteer fire-fighters for a 10 hour shift.
Clancy wasn’t always fighting the recent fires.
“When the fires started at Lithgow last week the RFS sent out a statement saying that no HSC students should be sent to battle the fires,” Clancy told me.
By the time the fires spread elsewhere in the Blue Mountains and around New South Wales the situation became dire.
Clancy stressed that the RFS have been very conscious of their younger recruits and never pressured him to help with the fires. On the contrary he does it because he feels a need to help out.
“During the Lithgow fires I was sitting at home listening to the [RFS] radio, studying. I felt helpless. Here I was with my head in the books. I wanted to be out there helping. You don’t feel obligated, you want to help.”
Clancy has been with Faulconbridge Rural Fire Brigade for two years, he signed up through a cadetship program run through Blaxland High School by Engineering teacher and Brigade Captain, Mal Barton.
“The year I signed up for the cadetship program was the first year they ran it, it has been very successful,” says Clancy. “Mr. Barton isn’t the Captain anymore so now I run the cadetship program along with some of the original students, it fills up every term.”
They don’t run the program during term one and four as they need all trucks in the station during those critical months.
The age of cadets accepted into the RFS differs between brigades. Faulconbridge accepts cadets as young as 14. However you aren’t allowed to be sent to fires until you’re 16.
He said being on the frontline is a huge adrenalin rush, and contrary to what most people think, you tend to not notice the heat.
“When you have a 30 metre fire coming at you you don’t think, oh that’s hot. You’re thinking about other things,” said Clancy. “It also helps that we have good PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).”
All fire-fighters are trained to be constantly alert and aware of their surroundings. The work can have long periods of waiting or arduous fire preparation and prevention work. When you are sent to a fire however it is all go, you have think on your feet and know exactly what you are doing and do it right.
Clancy said that he believes the fires have taken a toll on his HSC to a certain extent but he is not going to apply for misadventure.
“I’m not after that 99% ATAR, I have already been accepted into University, I believe there are other people who deserves misadventure more than me, like people who have lost their homes.”
He said the balance between his studies and his volunteer fire-fighting work comes down to his priorities in life.
“At the end of the day you have to look at your priorities, I would rather be out there saving homes and lives.”
Clancy has one more exam to go. When that is done he can take a well earned break from study and prepare for the new year where he will be studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts, majoring in Audio and Sound at JMC.
* All photos by Liam Clancy.