real life

Jasper almost died on New Year's Eve. He shares what people don't know about fighting fires.

“Jasper?”

“Jasper? Put the blanket up.”

Watching the now viral video shared by NSW Fire and Rescue from inside a fire truck south of Nowra, you’d expect the first words heard on screen to be yelled. Screamed. Bellowed.

But the question is calm, the direction measured and the response swift.

As flames danced around the Central Coast crew, who’d travelled down to help battle the South Coast bushfires, you’d never know that inside Jasper’s mind, he thought he was about to die.

Here is the now viral video. Post continues after. 

Video by NSW Fire & Rescue

“100 per cent [I thought we were dead],” Jasper told Mamamia yesterday, reflecting on New Year’s Eve. “It was touch and go there for a few minutes.”

What saved them, on that final day of 2019, was the fact they kept moving. They were able to out-drive the fire which had turned from the front to the flank in seconds as a southerly blew through, quadrupling the fire front and increasing the ferocity.

“There were 17 of us [firefighters] in that situation, and not one was injured. We thought there were definitely eight fatalities. We drove out of there knowing that. It wasn’t until about an hour later, that we realised they were okay,” said Jasper.

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Jasper Croft has been on retained staff for Fire and Rescue for eight years now, and he loves it. He doesn’t think he’s a hero, as we are all calling him. It’s simply his job, and his passion. He tells Mamamia, he doesn’t think about it as “work.”

“We are not heroes. We are doing our job to save lives and save our community. That’s what we’re trained to do, that’s what we love to do,” he said.

Jasper also has a full time job (he builds luxury horse floats), has two primary school age kids and a partner. But alongside all of that, he is on call for the firies 24/7. Last Saturday he didn’t sleep at all, and was called out four times.

He’s back at home at the moment on the New South Wales Central Coast, so he was responding to things like house alarms, bin fires, and car accidents. They are all still in need of attention, of course, as the bushfires continue to rage.

He has been deployed to the bushfires numerous times since September as part of Fire and Rescue “strike teams.” Casino, Port Macquarie, Tenterfield, Mangrove Mountain and Nowra are among the places his Wyoming crews have been helping out.

bushfire australia photos 2020
For Jasper, saving lives and homes and property is a passion. Image: Supplied/Samantha Westaway.

They're the "lucky ones". Being paid staff, they get motels, and are pretty well looked after.

"But the RFS end up in camps," he said. "It's like a tent city in a show ground or something like that. Their funding is different to ours, and because there are so many of them, they can't put them in motels. They can't keep up with it. So they set up a base camp."

Despite the differences, once on the fire grounds, they are all great mates. They're all in it together.

"In Port Macquarie, I was there with guys from New Zealand, the ACT, South Australia and Victoria. Of a night we'd all come together, have a feed, have some beers, and talk about the different fire fighting terrains in our areas," he said.

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Jasper says one of the amazing things about being a firefighter (apart from the saving people/homes and animals part) is the camaraderie.

"It's a great mateship thing as much as it is helping people," he said. "But you also just have that passion to help someone out and make possibly the worst day of their life, a little bit better. It makes the exhaustion worth it."

Speaking of exhaustion - Jasper is tired, as are all of the thousands of crews in Australia right now. But in Jasper's case - he really doesn't mind. He also doesn't notice it until he is actually off the fire ground. While he is fighting fire - any heat, fear and lethargy is overpowered by adrenalin.

"Inside the flames it'll be 700,800,900 degrees and you'll come out and go: 'that was hot'. But when you're in it, you're not thinking about it," he said.

SA bushfires december 2019
Jasper says the heat, fear and exhaustion is not something you feel until you're off the fireground. Image: Getty.

As for the politics of the fires, the focus of which right now is on Scott Morrison's leadership during the current crisis, he simply doesn't have time for blame games and finger pointing.

"We are in the thick of it, we have to stick our heads down and get this job done. Let the politics happen later," he told Mamamia. 

The one thing he is finding frustrating is the fact he'd like to be out there fighting more.

"People see me on my days off and they're like 'thought you'd be out fighting fires?' and the thing is, I would be. Problem is we don't have the appliances to keep doing it.

"I have 19 staff at my station but only two trucks. We can only have six people on it. So there's still a heap of us that are at the station doing nothing. We all want to be out there, but we physically can't," he explained.

When it comes to the RFS crews, Jasper explains there might be 40 or 50 volunteers vying after two trucks. It's not a lack of people willing to do the work, it's a lack of appliances.

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On the road again this morning with an AFA and an MVA. ???????? #frnsw #frnswmedia #firefighters

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Life as a firefighter is never dull.

Jasper's world is all timed and organised to perfection, so he can jump to action at a moment's notice.

"Say I am going out with my partner, I have to think about what car is where so I can always get home if I get called. At night I could be asleep in bed and get a call and I will be on a truck within seven minutes," he said.

His family and friends are all understanding. In fact, his son wants to follow in his footsteps and one day wear a uniform too.

The thought of that fills Jasper with pride. He is extremely proud to be a firefighter, and he'd be thrilled to pass his passion down to the next generation.

But 'hero' is not a word Jasper is willing to accept lightly.

"I appreciate everyone's thanks but there are so many of us doing the same thing. There are a lot of people who do this for the same reasons I do. We are not heroes, we are just doing our bit. There are ambulance officers and police officers out here too - all of us are doing the same job," he told Mamamia. 

... And there's more.

Mamamia Out Loud, our bi-weekly podcast, is coming to Melbourne for a live show, with 100 per cent of all ticket proceeds going to the Australian Red Cross disaster relief and recovery fund.

It's a brand new show, full of laughs and news and opinions and a few special surprises, with Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens, on February the 11th. You can buy tickets right now at mamamia.com.au/events. See you there! 

Feature image: Supplied.

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