Instead of painting a canvas on the weekend, Boggabri’s Tammey McAllan jumped in a fire truck.
The artist is the newest retained firefighter in the Boggabri 229 Fire & Rescue NSW team after four days of training in Armidale.
“They actually put you in real scenarios so they have what they call Charlie’s house, so it’s set up inside like an actual house… [and] it’s completely blacked out and they fill it with smoke and raise it up to 140 degrees, and they give you a scenario,” Ms McAllan said.
“You jump in the truck and they tell you what type of fire it is and how many people are inside and you have go inside and rescue the dummies.”
Ms McAllan successfully completed phase one of the training, with phase two in October. She said she knew there was a need for more firefighters in her local brigade and one day in July she decided to explore the idea.
“I walked past the fire station one day and I thought ‘I’d love to do that’,” she said.
“I got home and thought, ‘There’s no harm in asking if I could do it’.”
Mrs McAllan said the captain Brian King always believed she could handle it.
“I’ve never been in an organisation where every single person I’ve met has been so supportive and said ‘You can do it’,” she said.
“I’m a female and it is a very physical job as well but the trainers were fantastic in Armidale and they train you to be ready for everything.
“I think it’s really great that it is open for both female and male. Everything the men do, we do. It’s not like they give us the easy jobs but because they train you so well and they give you so much information behind it, you are pretty much able to do what’s required anyway.
“It's really great that there are organisations out there that if you are completely passionate, they will support you.”
Ms McAllan can now go out on calls and on Monday, “fresh from my training”, there was a call-out.
“You do get an adrenaline rush and everything else is off and your priority is to get to the station,” she said.
“It is very much a team effort. It’s all very fast-paced but very organised.”
Ms McAllan said it was great being part of a local team.
“Everyone’s been really welcoming and it is literally like a little family,” she said.
“You do have to be quite close too. If you’re going into a fire with someone, you need to have complete trust that they’ve got your back.”
I know if there is a situation, I am going to be able to be useful and I think that’s really empowering for anyone, whether you’re male or female.Tammey McAllan
Ms McAllan said her family’s shop in Boggabri burnt down 20 years ago and the brigade attended the scene.
“That’s really stuck in my mind. They were so helpful back then,” she said.
“The beautiful thing is that Brian King who is my captain was actually one of the firefighters who put out the fire 20 years ago.
“I think it’s lovely I get to work with Brian and he was like my little hero back in the day.”
Ms McAllan said the training had changed her mental state.
“I have my uniform all ready, shoes and socks placed and ready to go and I’m thinking during the day, ‘Do I have enough water in case I get called out?’ I normally walk the dogs a few kilometres but now I try to stay in the area in case,” she said.
“It certainly does change your daily routine but in a good way - it’s actually making me more organised.”
Ms McAllan said her two boys “love” that she is now a firefighter and they know what it means when her pager goes off.
“They’ve got a little bag packed in their room and they walk across to my neighbour’s house,” she said.
“That was one of my biggest things – I am a single mum and a female and everyone’s worked out a way to be supportive.”
I’ve never been in an organisation where every single person I’ve met has been so supportive and said ‘You can do it’.Tammey McAllan
Ms McAllan said her new skills gave her the confidence that if she was in an emergency, she would know what to do.
“I really don’t like feeling helpless in a situation and I think some females, especially mothers, do get that feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless if something goes wrong,” she said,
“I know if there is a situation, I am going to be able to be useful and I think that’s really empowering for anyone, whether you’re male or female.”
Ms McAllan said there was a need for more firefighters in the country and “anyone thinking of doing something rewarding, I highly recommend it”.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.