Melbourne, Australia – Every summer, parts of Australia go up in flames as hot and windy conditions spark wild bushfires.
The job of containing and stopping them from destroying lives and homes often falls to volunteer firefighters. Having fled war and persecution, some refugees are now stepping forward.
“The hoses are very heavy. Especially when there’s water going down. For me – maybe not for the men. But for me it’s very heavy,” Aida Pahang, a refugee from Iran, told Al Jazeera. “But I like it. I like to save people. Even trees, even nature. I love it.”
She has resettled in the Noble Park suburb, which is near Melbourne.
Though Australia has recently limited the number of refugees it accepts, tens of thousands who arrived between 2010 and 2013 were allowed to stay. A high number settled to the south and east of Melbourne, an area facing a shortage of firefighting volunteers.
“Five years ago, there weren’t enough volunteers to run even a training exercise … let alone enough to have enough people, reliably on call for when real fires broke out,” Terence Sandford of the Noble Park Fire Service said.
“We had about 12 members in the brigade and that’s really not enough for what we want to do in the community, so we really had to do something to change that around.”
The fire service has made an effort to recruit from ethnic minorities, particularly resettled refugees. Today, of the 52 volunteers based at Noble Park, half are from immigrant backgrounds.
“They helped us,” said Abbas Abdollahi, Aida’s husband. “They accept us to be in Australia, so I should do something. I want to do something. It’s like paying back.”
Matthew Pond, who works for the Country Fire Authority of Victoria, said that the refugees were useful additions to the teams, given their diverse language skills.
“Quite often we have members responding who can speak other languages and can offer comfort and support for people in their time of need,” he said.