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Thursday, May 13, 2021
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Photographer firefighter Gary Hooker receives medal

Firefighter Gary Hooker climbed to the top of Simpsons Hill, Chisholm, every day for a month to take photos of the Orroral Valley fire. One of the biggest fires in the ACT’s history, it burnt almost 88,000 hectares, leaving Namadgi and Tidbinbilla smoking wrecks.

Today, a year after the fire began, Mr Hooker stood in the same place, in the drizzle of an uncharacteristically chilly January morning, and remembered his joy at watching the rain come at last: “A blessing for the whole of Canberra.”

Mr Hooker, a member of the Guises Creek Rural Fire Brigade, was at his brigade’s shed when he was called to Orroral Valley. When he saw the plume of smoke rising over the valley, he knew it would be a big day.

“We were very happy to make it home,” he said.

Mr Hooker is working with Rural Fire Service (RFS) and SES members to compile a book of 3,000 photos that captures their experience of the fires – from dead animals to (more positively) recovery. The ACT Emergency Services Agency describe Mr Hooker as one of their main suppliers for imagery from the fireground, both documenting what happened and preventing disaster tourism.

Gary Hooker points out where he took his photograph from the top of Simpsons Hill, Chisholm.

“I must admit I am a bit of a nutcase photographer, and enjoy capturing images of what we do whilst out fighting fires, as well as educating the community to help prepare themselves better for bushfires and other incidents,” Mr Hooker commented on Facebook.

Mr Hooker received the Australian Fire Service Medal on Australia Day for his dedicated and committed service to the ACT RFS and to the wider community.

“I feel very overwhelmed and humbled, because I’ve just turned up at the sheds for 18 years,” he said.

A CPA accountant and IT person, Mr Hooker joined the RFS to help the community in a way that did not involve books or computers. He enlisted 18 years ago – in time for Canberra’s horror bushfires of 2003. Since then, he has helped to fight Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, and been deployed with the ACT RFS Strike Team to Coffs Harbour, Nerriga, Braidwood and Adaminaby.

He has also represented the RFS at community events; he reckons he has been to more fetes than fires. “I get a kick out of giving kids a squirt on the hose, because I’m a big kid!”

He thanked the Canberra community for their support. “I’ve enjoyed [being in the RFS], and I’d recommend it to anyone else. If you’re considering helping the community, you should join the RFS, the SES, or any other volunteer organisation.”

Fellow firefighter Noel McLaren received the Australian Fire Service Medal also for his 30-year career with ACT Fire and Rescue.

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