Australian Fire Service Medal for HammondCare At Home staff member

Shoalhaven HammondCare At Home staff member, Michelle Thornley, has been awarded the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal, as part of the Australia Day Honours for 2020, and was due to receive her medal in May at Government House in Sydney - now postponed until Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has quickly superseded the devastation of the bushfire season, the challenges, heroics and impact of those days should not be forgotten, especially the efforts of the Rural Fire Service but also the tireless work of, among many others, aged care workers, supporting clients and families.

Michelle Thornley 580 452Michelle's award not only recognises her outstanding service during the fire season, which she says she will never forget, but a remarkable 35-years of service which has its origins when she was a child.

"My dad was the Captain and my grandfather the Deputy Captain, so as a child I grew up with fire-trucks in the front yard, from that day forward it was expected that we become fire fighters."

As a brigade captain responsible for more than 50 volunteer fire fighters, Michelle said she was deeply honoured to be nominated for the recognition. The official award says: “She has been involved with a number of major fire events and incidents, and has been on countless out of area deployments. Her firefighting skills are exemplary and she has put in hundreds of hours training her members and juniors over her 35 years of service. Ms Thornley demonstrates the service and values of a committed NSWRFS volunteer and her achievements are most noteworthy.”

In regard to the bushfire crisis that gripped the Shoalhaven and South Coast regions for many weeks, Michelle says she had some close calls. “[It was] very tiring and not much family time, I have missed out on Christmas and New Year. I think my daughter actually only sees me as a I come and go. We had crews on the ground most days.

"Some days have been quiet on the fireground but there have been days of extreme fire activity, that we don’t often see, the way the fires behaved this season. We had some near misses and those days will definitely stay with me."

"We got caught in a situation where we had fire all around us and used our over-run sprays and had another couple of tankers come in to assist us, so that will stay with us for a little while."

Michelle said the most important aspect of her RFS role was the opportunity to support the community and this attitude is also seen in her caring role with HammondCare.

“I’m all about making a difference, not only when fires are active. There were many clients affected by these fires and many people are going to take a long time to recover.”

Her two roles came together during the worst of the fires when she was able to keep her HCAH colleagues informed of latest fire activity that might affect clients. She was also able to advise on emergency service contacts when clients couldn’t be reached or contacted.

She often refers particularly vulnerable clients to the AIDER (Assist Infirm, Disabled and Elderly Residents) program which is a free, one-off RFS program for making homes more fire safe.

Michelle expected to receive her Australian Fire Services Medal at a special investiture ceremony at Government House, Canberra, in May, but this will be subject to restrictions at the time.

To hear more about Michelle’s RFS experiences, listen to this interview on ABC Radio.