What a difference a year makes.
Just 12 months ago Jamberoo Rural Fire Service volunteer David Brennan had just spent weeks fighting fires in Tenterfield, Picton and The Oaks and wasn't sure he was going to be able to spend any time with his family on Christmas Day.
Mr Brennan considers himself lucky because he did manage to see his wife Melanie and son Benjamin before returning to fire grounds on the South Coast, Southern Highlands and Blue Mountains.
Including fires at Bundanoon, Exeter and Moruya where his sister Paula is the school principal and has a farm. She had to cut her time short with the family on Christmas Day because of those fires.
Mr Brennan knows many fire fighters didn't get to enjoy Christmas with their families at all last year. And how all RFS volunteers plan to make the most of Christmas 2020, even with COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of people able to gather at home.
The last fire season was the worst in Mr Brennan's six years as a fire fighter. It involved him fighting fires for several months.
This year he has enjoyed having the time to help with preparations for the festive season. Last Mrs Brennan was heavily pregnant and had to do it all. He said partners were the unsung heroes behind the scenes.
"The wives and the partners do so much. They are looking after the children and doing everything when we are out fighting fires. We are out there getting pats on the back for protecting lives and property but they are doing everything else," he said.
This year will be extra special for the Brennan family as it will be nine month old Eamon's first Christmas.
Mr Brennan is planning to make the most of the day while complying with COVID-19 restrictions.
He said his sisters Annette and Catherine in Sydney have organised this year's lunch and will be careful to stay under the 10 person limit for adults.
His father Paul Brennan, a retained firefighter of more than 20 years experience, will also join them.
After New Year the family is planning to go camping in Victoria.
"It is a trip we had to postpone last year," Mr Brennan said.
Despite being away from home so much last summer he said he enjoys being a volunteer fire fighter.
"I am a school teacher which means I have much of the summer off. So I am in a unique position to be able to put my hand up fairly regularly."
Mr Brennan said Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts where he teaches was very understanding of his role as a volunteer fire fighter. And principal Paul Ryan never has any problem in him taking leave when there is a state level emergency.
Mr Brennan said helping people was very rewarding in itself. He doesn't do it for any accolades but does admit he was very moved last when he witnessed first hand how grateful people were for the efforts of RFS volunteers.
He and his crew had just spent the night protecting homes from fires during strong southerly winds at Bundanoon after the fire had jumped the Shoalhaven River west of Nowra.
"As we walked into McDonald's at 7am the next morning in Moss Vale the whole restaurant erupted into applause. That was pretty humbling."
Mr Brennan said the other thing about last summer was that even when volunteers weren't on the fire ground they were still on high alert at the station waiting to be called out with a 30 second notice of deployment.
"I reckon those are the most stressful days because you are still there for 12 hours with adrenaline pumping and facing the unknown all day," he said.
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