After over 20 years fighting fires Gunning local Krystaal Hinds (Pictured) was awarded an Australian Fire Service Medal over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

Krystaal was speechless when she was notified about the nomination and still doesn’t know who put her forward for the award.

“It’s a really mixed bag of emotions because it’s never about the awards or recognition,” she said. “So it’s extremely humbling to think that someone had taken the time to nominate me or even consider me worthy of something like this.”

“The nomination itself means more than the award almost.”

The award recognises Krystaal’s dedication and hard work throughout her 24 years with the RFS. The Australian Fire Service Medal is awarded for distinguished service by a member of an Australian fire service and is the highest NSW RFS award.

After growing up in Gunning, Krystaal has spent most of her life in the area besides a period when she moved away for university and work.

“It’s a fantastic community to come home to and it’s a great place to raise a family.”

She moved back to Gunning with her now-husband and the pair are raising their three children in town.

Krystaal is currently the Southern Tablelands Group Captain after serving as Deputy Group Captain for three years and works full-time with the RFS as an Operational Officer for Southwest Slopes. She was also previously the Captain of the Gunning-Fish River Brigade and has a background in forestry.

During her tenure as the Gunning-Fish River Brigade Captain, Krystaal worked diligently with the community and her Brigade members to increase recruitment, with a particular focus on attracting more junior and female volunteers.

These efforts resulted in a thirty per cent increase in the number of young members and women in the Brigade, reflecting Krystaal’s genuine commitment to ensuring the Brigade reflected the community it served.

Krystaal joined the then Gunning Town Brigade, more recently renamed the Gunning-Fish River Brigade, in 1998 when she was just 15 years old.

A family friend who volunteered with the brigade recruited young Krystaal to join their ranks.

“Back then there was nothing else to do in the town,” she said. “So it was a good idea and I had no idea how much I would love being part of something like this and how valuable the service is that it provides to the community.”

Krystaal is recognised for her leadership, and as a role model and supportive mentor for her fellow volunteers, particularly young women joining the organisation.

Her commitment as a volunteer has long been demonstrated in the numerous operational and administrative roles she has undertaken, including as Brigade Secretary, Training Officer, Deputy Captain, and Brigade Captain.

Over the 2019/2020 fire season she was deployed to numerous fires, including the Northern NSW fires as a strike team leader and Divisional Commander on multiple occasions.

“19/20 [fire season] had some really big moments and some quite scary moments, and I definitely used what I’ve learned over the years to keep myself and my crew safe in those times.”

Krystaal said most of the shift work during the bushfires involved some tedious and repetitive workdays.

“That’s when you rely on those friendships that you form in the brigade,” she said. “Nothing makes a 14-hour shift go faster than working alongside your mates and having a laugh.”

Described as a “driving force” in the establishment of a training centre for the Gunning – Fish River Fire Brigade station Krystaal has been heavily involved in various training courses.

Krystaal acknowledges it’s a very personal choice but encouraged any locals interested in joining the RFS to give it a go.

“It’s just a wonderful way of getting involved in your community and the best thing about the RFS by far is the incredible people.”

“I’ve met people and made friends from all over the state and keep in touch with them regularly,” she said. “There’s also a huge amount of personal satisfaction that comes with helping people.”

“The brigade has been a huge part of my life, and I’m very grateful to have been involved for this long.”

Brianna O’Rourke