Team members get some sleep in the middle of the highway.
“Out of all of the fires I had been to this summer, that moment was the scariest for me. When you are in a volunteer fire unit these people become like your second family. I would do anything for them,” she says. “And I know the people who worked alongside those victims would have felt exactly the same [NSW RFS volunteers Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, died on December 19 after a burnt out gum tree fell on their fire truck]. We are all devastated when we hear about any deaths or injuries and there have been too many this summer."
Jess believes many of her crew were operating on adrenaline with so many relentless, unabating fires to deal with this season. The same could be said for her: between November 26 and January 7, she had three days off amid fighting fires and working full-time as a nurse educator in the emergency department of The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.
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Jess and crew giving the thumbs up after battling the Gospers Mountain blaze.
“I have definitely had days where I’ve thought, ‘That’s it, I’m not doing this anymore.’ Days where I’ve sunk exhausted to the floor of my shower thinking ‘I can’t believe all that just happened and now I have to go back and do it again.’ That’s when I’ve had tears. But it would take a lot for me to throw it in.
“I couldn’t walk away from my crew. Firefighters never want to give up. It’s heart-wrenching for them to be told to pull back if it’s got too dangerous or if one property has to be sacrificed in order to save others.
“It takes someone special to put their hand up and say, ‘I will be the person who goes in when everyone is running the other way.’ Australia just couldn’t be in better hands.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of marie claire.