On March 15, 1989, Robert Wilcox joined the formerly named NSW Fire Brigade in Yass. Robbert started as an engine keeper, working his way up to becoming deputy captain.
The competent rescue operator’s impressive marathon of service came to an end last year on May 21, spanning a 30-year career as a firefighter in Yass.
According to Fire and Rescue NSW Yass Deputy Captain Mathew Carroll, Robert was one of the guys he looked up to during his early days.
“Robby was a great mentor to the juniors, I benefitted a lot when I first started, and he has contributed a lot during his service,” Captain Carroll said.
“It was priceless, his knowledge and experience. You knew you had a good chance in an outcome with Rob on your team.”
During the early days of Robert’s firefighting career, he attended to countless amounts of road accidents, with the previous single-lane highway in the area causing many head-on collisions and fatalities.
According to Rob, there were more than 40 fatalities in each year and one major rescue he recalled, was a semi-trailer truck rolling off the road and ending up overturned in the middle of Kitty Creek.
Rob and his team spent five hours digging and pumping of water out of the creek, to save the victim who was stuck in the truck.
Water levels were at knee-deep height, and luckily, it was not flooded on that day.
There was a cluster of rubbish at the bottom too, which made the pumping job easier.
Although Robert described the mission as “complicated”, against all the odds, the victim survived because of the quick-thinking heroics of Rob’s team.
Doctors said the victim only survived because the water was lowered and that he was extricated safely.
In 2007, Robert was also involved in the major Horton House Nursing Home Fire.
When The Times asked Deputy Captain Mathew Carroll, who has been around for the past 15 years, what it was like working with Robert, he said it was about how respected he was each time he entered the room.
“Although he has a good sense of humour, when he needed to be serious, you knew he wasn’t mucking around. When Robbie spoke, everyone listened,” he said.
“If you were at an incident and he spoke, you would listen.”
During his service, Robert recalled mornings he would get a call out for an accident at 1am, spending five to six hours attending to the incident, getting home around 6am and then heading off to work for the new day not long after.
One instance on New Year’s Day, Robert’s family were away on holiday, and due to a shortage of manpower at the station, Rob was on standby at home.
Robert said it was more than a job, that it was a privilege to serve the community.
“To get someone out of something, you know you’ve done well at the end of the day,” he said.
“I always say a fire station is like a jigsaw; if you get the right combination together, you can do amazing as a team. [And] I was lucky to be part of an amazing team.
“It is a hard gig sometimes, some of the rescues we did were out of the box, anyone that does fire rescues would be proud of what we did.”
Yass Police Acting Inspector Dave Cowell commended Robert’s service as a remarkable achievement, one that should be celebrated.
“What we’ve got to remember is that he has given 30 years of his life helping people that are involved in dangerous situations.”
On August 22, Fire and Rescue NSW Yass farewelled and acknowledged the service and commitment of Robert Wilcox, Dave Halley and Peter Green.
Dave Halley has been a member of the 511 station for ten years (2009-2019), and according to Deputy Captain Mathew Carroll, he is highly knowledgeable and confident.
Halley is also skilled with roping cordage and has a great understanding of how situations can be resolved, Carroll said Dave is “handy to have on the team when jobs needed to be done”.
Peter Green joined in 2007 and finished last year, and he has also attended to many precarious situations during his spell.
Deputy Captain Carroll recalls one job which a child had a nut stuck on their finger, however, Peter had a cool head and managed to talk to the child through an ordeal which, the nut had to be cut in front of them.
The celebrations of these milestones were scheduled to occur earlier but were postponed due to COVID.
On Saturday night three weeks ago, 54 guests of current and former members as well as family members, were in attendance, each of the firefighter’s wives were also acknowledged.
And for many long-serving firefighters like Robert, Dave and Peter, during their service they have missed many family events, endured through many tiring days and missed a lot of sleep.
For Robert, he is cherishing every moment he has now with his wife and family and making use of the great outdoors.
The biggest change he said, was not having to think about the job anymore, having a phone on standby and being able to leave town and not worry about getting back by a certain time.
The Times congratulates and appreciates Robert, Dave and Peter for their service to the community and wishes them all the best in their future endeavours.
By Christopher Tan