YOUNG Catholic firefighter Michael O’Donovan prays for protection, calling on God to stand by him and others, even in the fiercest of blazes.
“God is all powerful. When you have an all- powerful God you ask Him for things you’d like his support in,” the 23-year-old from Brisbane said.
After signing up as a volunteer less than 10 months ago, Mr O’Donovan has stood on the fire frontline this summer, and even witnessed a fellow firefighter lose his house while defending others.
“He was fighting a fire in the area and the fire just took his home,” Mr O’Donovan said.
“It was pretty devastating that he wasn’t able to defend his house as well with the brigade because of the severity of conditions at that time.”
Mr O’Donovan attended Marist College, Ashgrove, and later moved to Sydney to attend Campion College where he studied Latin and Greek as part of a liberal arts degree.
He joined the Eastern Creek brigade of the Rural Fire Service in April, quickly completing his basic training and making himself available as a volunteer.
In his first few months, he has experienced the high demands of firefighting – concentration, courage and bonding – all of which he takes in his stride, alongside his full-time job selling plasterboard.
“We all go in knowing the dangers of the fire, and of firefighting,” Mr O’Donovan said.
“Firefighters really see themselves as a family and they are always looking after each other.”
Mr O’Donovan attends St Anthony’s Church in Toongabbie, and has spent many weekends working with his brigade in bushfire hazard reduction, and attending to house and vehicle fires in Sydney’s western fringe.
He said his Catholic faith was important in making sense of the firefighting.
“God is creator of all things, and there have been quite a few homes of people I know that have been destroyed,” Mr O’Donovan said.
“So really the main thing I pray for is safety of people and their property.
“And that does as much good as getting out there on the fire ground as well.”
On December 22 his Eastern Creek brigade was called to Lithgow, north-west of Sydney and on the edge of the Blue Mountains, amidst catastrophic fire conditions.
The so-called Gospers Mountain mega-blaze had already been burning for about a month – started by lightning on October 26 and spreading across six local government areas and burning over 512,000 hectares of land.
There were days of intense blazes that claimed many properties, and Mr O’Donovan recalls protecting one man’s property with tactical fire breaks that almost certainly saved a house and nearby livestock.
“The courage of the firefighters is amazing and the generosity of their time and the understanding of their families as well,” he said.
“People have given up weeks of their annual leave to be part of this.”
Mr O’Donovan said his own family and friends supported his decision to become a volunteer firefighter, even if there were dangers.
“They do worry when I go out on the fire ground, but they know I am with a good crew and they know it’s a good cause that I am doing it for as well, and they are overall supportive of that.
“I have only supportive friends, nobody who thinks it’s not a good use of time, and since I’ve joined a lot of friends have shown interest in doing it as well.
“Especially after this season they can see the need for it and want to give some of their time.”
Mr O’Donovan said his belief in God gave him courage even in the face of tragedy – like the death of two young NSW RFS volunteers, killed when a truck believed to have been travelling in convoy from a fire ground hit a tree and rolled off the road.
“It’s a very important thing, to pray,” he said.
“If you ask God to protect things he’s going to lend a hand because he’s our Father, and is there to help and to comfort us and love us and do everything for us.”