Some 60 years after facing his first fire, Peter Dyce is about to retire from the Rural Fire Service (RFS). He reflected on his career with the Tribune’s Robyn Sykes.
When a fire broke out at Brooks Creek in 1956 a stripling of 14, the son of the Gundaroo Fire Captain, hopped on the back of his next-door neighbour’s truck as it headed towards the flames. The fire eventually burnt through to Lake George, but for Peter Dyce a 60-year association with fire-fighting had begun.
As the sixth generation on the family property “Tillygreig”, in 1959 Peter attended the AGM of the Gundaroo brigade. The 19-year-old was elected Secretary, a position he kept until 1972, when he took on the Captain’s role. Twenty three years later, and after a 35-year career as a farmer, contractor and shearer, “I found myself volunteer Fire Control Officer, Gunning Shire.”
In 1996 the position was advertised as permanent and Peter’s name was added to the Gunning Shire’s payroll.
He found the transition “gave me a new lease of life. It was very rewarding. The hardest thing from my perspective as a volunteer was adjusting from being a farmer and contractor to being the person sitting behind the desk as an employee.”
He was still there when, in 2001, a restructure saw his position moved to the NSW Public Service. The redrawing of council boundaries in 2004 saw Gunning Shire abolished and Peter transferred to Yass, where he has remained as Community Education Officer ever since. He is passionate about his role.
“It’s a very interesting job, working with the community, children and other authorities,” he said. The work involves keeping the community informed by liaising with the public and media about local fires, fires in NSW and interstate deployments.
The RFS veteran has seen many changes over his 60-year career.
“We’ve gone from fighting fires with rakes, hoes, knapsacks and branches to using modern technology, with tools including aircraft and highly sophisticated equipment. Firefighting techniques have changed with the emphasis now being on fire safety for volunteers. There’s a lot of protection, a lot of back up if things go wrong. The PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) changes mean more safety.”
One of the highlights of his career was being involved with the Olympics and Paralympics in 2000 when some 1300 RFS volunteers provided support to the police. Peter was one of 24 Public Liaison Officers.
Another highlight is the RFS Cadet Program, which Peter coordinates in cooperation with the Department of Education. What started as a bit of a try-it-and-see project seven years ago with a course at Yass High School has been a huge success and is now run in Crookwell and Goulburn Mulwaree as well.
“It’s a very popular program,” Peter said with satisfaction. “We’ve had 119 students in the last 12 months go through. We’ve probably had 2-300 over the seven years. About 39-49 per cent have actually joined the RFS.”
Both males and females in Years 10 and 11 are invited to do an 11-week course for two hours per week during sports periods. The content is based on the Basic Fire Fighters course that all adults must complete before they can attend a fire. Students use RFS equipment, trucks and such.
One of the things to come out of the program was that Richard Alley, then in Year 11 at Yass High School, was selected as the 2013 NSW Rural Fire Service Cadet of the Year.
Another highlight was Peter’s work with the Yass Tribune, especially with former editor Karan Gabriel during the 2013 Cobblers Road fire. The Yass Tribune was awarded the prestigious EC Sommerlad Memorial Award for Editorial Leadership and Community Involvement and a Mayor’s Australia Day Award for Community Service in Excellent Communication for its coverage of the fire.
Does he have any advice to anyone thinking of joining the RFS?
“My advice would be it is a fantastic organisation. Volunteering is very rewarding. I would encourage young people or anyone with time to put their hand up for volunteering. You meet lots of people and make life-long friendships.
“Certainly there have been some challenges, as in any role you get the ups and downs. But we are here to support the volunteers, to provide advice and assistance when they are in need. Every time I talk to the media I always tell them the volunteers are doing a wonderful job.Without volunteers the RFS is nonexistent.”
While travel is on the agenda for Peter and his wife Donnita, with a couple of cruises booked and a trip to the US and Canada planned, Peter is not leaving the RFS. “I’ll be going back to my brigade at Gundaroo as an active volunteer firefighter.
“I’ll also continue the community education as a volunteer, because we’ve got to take community along with us; to allow changes to happen you have to communicate with the community.”
Next Friday will be his last day of work at the Yass Fire Control Centre.
“I’ve made a lot of friends and had a wonderful time. Yass is a great community and the people in it are great.”