Passionate volunteer Peter Blake commended for 65 years of RFS service in Upper Hunter

LOCAL HERO: Margaret Blake is proud her husband, Peter, has gained recognition for his 65 years fighting fires.
LOCAL HERO: Margaret Blake is proud her husband, Peter, has gained recognition for his 65 years fighting fires.

PETER Blake has so many stories it's difficult to fit them into one article, but that's to be expected with someone who has spent an incredible 65 years serving the community.

As one of the longest-serving RFS members in the region, he's seen a lot of flames, devastation and tragedy in his career, but that hasn't lessened his passion for the job.

He's been part of the Kayuga, Dalswinton and Gundy brigades throughout his time in the region, as well as being part of the Remote Area Firefighting Team (RAFT).

Going through every fire, the 83-year-old has helped save the community from would take up this week's entire edition of the paper, but he was able to pick out a few which have stuck with him.

"The first fire I went to I was still in primary school, it came in from Bengalla and across the flat towards the corners of Kayuga and Wybong road at the northern end of Muswellbrook," he said.

"It came through the property I lived at with my parents at Rosebrook and quite a few people turned out, there were locals and neighbours and we beat it out with limbs off trees because nobody had any equipment."

That blaze, which he recalled to be in the late 1940s, ignited a spark within him and launched his lifelong commitment to firefighting.

He has been tested throughout the years though, noting one instance that left him extremely shaken.

One of the largest infernos he's ever dealt with started near the historic Plashett property on Edderton Road, and spread approximately 40,000 acres.

However, among the devastation and fears the flames would spread all the way to Singleton, which they didn't courtesy of a haul road adjacent to Bayswater Power Station, there was one thing on Mr Blake's mind - the safety of his son.

He said it took several stressful hours of driving around and calling over CB radio to locate him, eventually finding him safe and sound although extremely lucky to have gotten out of the situation alive, having been driven around unrestrained on the back of a farm truck through poor visibility.

It should come as no surprise that his son, Steve, has since become part of the RFS and served with his father.

His skills go beyond that of a regular member of the service, and his time with RAFT clearly displays that.

"You have to do abseiling off cliffs, they'd drop you out of a helicopter on top of a mountain and you'd only have a chainsaw or a rake hoe and you had to put the fire out without water - or try," he quipped.

Not only has the octogenarian put his expertise to use in Australia, but he was asked to help deal with an international issue in Malaysia a number of years ago.

In 1998 the Commonwealth Games were held in the Malaysia, however the event was placed at serious risk due to large forest fires that were blanketing the capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The Blake family was called upon, with Peter and his son undergoing difficult training to prepare them for the conditions they would face.

"At night after work my daughter would drive the car and my son and I would run down the road and we had to run a mile in a given time," he revealed.

"We trained up for it and eventually they had torrential rain and some people went but not a lot, but they asked for volunteers from all across Australia from the Bush Fire Brigade."

Things have changed quite a lot from the beginning of his tenure as a firefighter, and he spoke about some of the biggest differences he's noticed over the years.

"The first trucks were terrible," he said.

"In the early days in the winter time the truck would freeze you and in the summer time it would cook you, and it couldn't pull the skin of a rice pudding because it was really weak.

"But, then we got better and better equipment and now we carry chemicals for bushfire fighting foam and electrical house fire foams and you just dial up what you need, and most people are trained for that sort of thing."

These days you can find Mr Blake still chipping in and fixing up machinery at Gundy RFS, in between looking after his farm.

Though he did make time recently to go and receive his long service award, at a ceremony where more than 20 members of brigades within the Liverpool Plains district were honoured.

"I went to one many years ago for a Mr Cowan at Sandy Hollow, and he got one for 60 or 65 years and I was so impressed and I thought I'd never get there, but that was 25 years ago or more," he said.

"It's a great honour, that's the only way to describe it and it's very rewarding that you're able to do a service to the public - so that's how I look at it."

This story Local RFS pioneer recognised first appeared on The Scone Advocate.

Comments