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‘Left one family to protect another’: Volunteer firefighter on what it was like to spend Christmas fighting fires

Ranbir Singh Manshaia is a volunteer with Cranbourne Fire Brigade. Source: Supplied

Ranbir Singh Manshaia is a volunteer firefighter with the Country Fire Authority, Victoria. He says his family is proud that he is able to help those in need.

Indian migrant Ranbir Singh "Sunny" Manshaia feels it’s “in his blood” to help others. That’s the reason, Mr Manshaia says, he became a CFA volunteer three years after arriving in Australia from his native village in Punjab, north India.

“Even back in Punjab, I did things like this, essentially helping people in trouble. Though things are done a bit differently there, the spirit remains the same,” he says.

Mr Manshaia joined Cranbourne CFA three years ago.

This Christmas, the 40-year-old father of two was planning to go out with his family and was then to head to his night shift as a health assistant at Monash Health.

However, a day before Christmas he was asked if he could make himself available for firefighting duties in East Gippsland area, and he didn’t say no.

“We were planning to go out but when I told my kids why we had to call it off, they understood. In fact, they are really proud that their dad is doing important work of keeping people safe,” he told SBS Punjabi.  “For me, I just left my family to take care of my bigger family.”

“I was deployed near Omeo for three days and then we proceeded to Swift Creek where we were tasked with containing a big fire. I have responded to fire incidents before but have never seen fires like in this season,” Mr Manshaia says.

Four firefighters have died fighting fires in Victoria this season, including one in Omeo.

Ranbir Singh Manshaia firefighter
Volunteer firefighter Ranbir Singh Manshaia

Mr Manshaia says while he realises it’s a dangerous job, he is trained and equipped to perform his duties.

When I signed up for this work, I fully understood what I was getting into. All volunteers understand that this is important work and someone has to do it.

Amid the ongoing bushfire crisis, the number of people showing interest to become a volunteer firefighter has jumped manifold with over 25,000 people having enquired about joining the Rural Fire Service since the beginning of this year’s horror fire season. This is compared to an average annual intake of approximately 4,000 new members.

Victoria’s Country Fire Authority has also seen a “significant increase” in expressions of interest.

Although volunteer firefighters work without any monetary compensation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Rural Fire Service volunteers from New South Wales will be able to apply for up to $6,000 from the Federal Government.  

But Mr Manshaia says the biggest reward for his work is the satisfaction of being able to help someone.

“You know when someone is in the middle of a fire, on the verge of losing their life savings and you are able to help them, that the real reward. I don’t think there can be anything more satisfying than that feeling.”

Click on the audio player at the top to listen to our conversation with Ranbir Singh Manshaia.

Listen to SBS Punjabi Monday to Friday at 9 pm. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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