FIREFIGHTERS from as far as Canberra and Lismore are journeying to Singleton this week to pay their respects to the late Errol Smith, who passed away, aged 76, on January 6.
More than 100 past and present NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) members will form a guard of honour for the ex-Singleton and Bulga group captain at his funeral on Thursday.
“He was just inspirational,” Smith’s former protégé John Hedley explained.
“When he was a group captain I was the senior deputy captain and I enjoyed the role before I went to another area (in 2001) but Errol was simply ‘Mr Bulga’.
“If anything took place in the Bulga community, he was either chairman, president and he was heavily involved in the school and the community raffles.”
Smith was also known for his work with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, Singleton Men’s Shed and the Bulga Progress Association.
However, his larger than life character was ultimately displayed when donning his iconic fire-fighting uniform for the past half of a century.
He first joined the Bulga Bush Fire Brigade in 1956 at the young age of 14 before he was elected deputy captain in 1970 by his peers.
In 1984 he was named as the captain for Bulga before he was appointed group captain for Singleton only five years later.
“He’s been to more fires and accidents than most in the region and there wouldn’t have been a single occasion where he didn’t drop everything to attend a fire or an emergency,” Mr Hedley added.
“Now you can retire as a group captain and retain that title in your retirement so that meant the world to him.”
He continued: “Errol became a life member in 1998 and then received the Australian Fire Service Medal in 2013.
“He was very humble about that honour as well.
“It didn’t matter if you were the janitor or the state commissioner, Errol was Errol and he’d treat you with just as much respect because he was a larger than life character.”
Current Group Four Captain Warren Welsh was only 24 when he started his RFS service in 1994 under the guidance of Mr Smith.
Fast forward 24 years later and he couldn’t help but smile when sharing stories of his former mentor.
“He (Smith) started in 1956 but in actual fact he probably started assisting the fire brigade a few years before that when he was 11,” Mr Welsh added.
“Errol actually helped build Bulga’s first fire truck and, in those days, during the bush fire service he was instrumental in building the first station as well.”
He joyfully added: “And I still can recall he had an iconic red Datsun Ute in the early days with the red flashing light on it.”
Mr Smith’s family and friends will honour his firefighting legacy through the inheritance of medals and honours bestowed over many years.
Outside of his 57 years of service, the general public will also continue to appreciate the Putty Road Truck Drivers Memorial he helped implement before its opening in May, 2010.
As for his brothers and sons across the firefighting fraternity?
They are already sharing Mr Smith’s adventurous tales with laughter and joy.
Mr Welsh recalls an adrenaline-rushed Sydney to Botany Bay drive with the aid of a fire truck (and siren).
Mr Hedley also remembers why the late leader was known as “Group Lost” following a misdirection which led to a helicopter rescue.
Many more tales will be shared at Mr Smith’s funeral service at the All Saints Anglican Church, Singleton, on Thursday, January 10, from 10.30am.
“He could tell you every truck rollover on Putty Road because he attended a majority of them and before the bushfire days he used to tell the stories of helping the salvage guys,” Mr Welsh added.
“He’d tell you about the pumpkin truck, potato truck, ice cream truck and he’d have a name for every corner.”
Hedley added with gusto, “We’ll always remember his expressions.”
“Be (the fire) out by lunch time.
“And, there was ‘just poking around’ and the list goes on.”
He continued, “But all jokes aside he was a fine leader, he always made sure his men were fed and had water, always looked after his family.
“But, he did a lot to support the SES as well and he idolised his family, his kids and his grandkids.”
“Farewell Mr Bulga, you will be missed.”