Late last year, dozens of fires spread rapidly across New South Wales and the Australian Government declared a state of emergency. In an unprecedented time from August 2019 to February 2020, we saw more than 18 million hectares of land ravaged, thousands of properties destroyed, lost more than 30 people and over a billion animals.
It was a difficult time for the country, but the response of organisations and people that banded together was yet another example of the Aussie way.
IT customer & commercial manager at Coca‑Cola Australia, James Baird was one of those heroic Aussies logging long hours to help protect his community. A volunteer firefighter of 11 years and captain of his 65-man brigade, in October last year he was called to action.
“My commitment over that three to four-month period was pretty heavy. I was fighting fires from the Central Coast to Port Macquarie, the Hawkesbury region out to the Blue Mountains, Nowra and Batemans Bay,” he said.
Fighting from the frontline
James became a volunteer firefighter and member of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) after witnessing first-hand the long-term impact of bushfires in Australia.
“What motivated me to join the RFS was the 2009 Black Saturday fires. I had family and friends impacted by those fires, and that gave me a call to action to get involved,” James said.
The impacts of this fire season were devastating for the RFS members to witness. Fighting fires for minimum 12-hour shifts comes with both intense physical and mental challenges.
“I was in Nowra and one of the houses that we saved was owned by a guy who had moved from Mount Colah. I lived there a couple years prior, so while a long way from home, he knew where I was from and we had that connection. I think it’s really rewarding, connecting with people through your experiences.”
Supporting our community
With the bushfire threat being a national crisis, reports indicate more than 3,000 volunteer firefighters were working on extinguishing these fires in NSW alone.
In support of our firies on the frontline, we joined forces with The Coca‑Cola Foundation (CCAF) and Coca‑Cola Amatil to create an emergency relief package of more than $1 million.
As part of the package, we donated $250,000 which went directly to the NSW Rural Fire Service, the Country Fire Association Victoria, and the South Australian Country Fire Service Foundation.
The CCAF donated $1 million to assist The Salvation Army in their disaster relief efforts. Coca‑Cola Amatil donated up to $375,000 by supplying beverages and financial support for small businesses affected by the fires, as well as through charity donations.
With James’ commitment to the fires stretching from October 2019 through to the new year, Coca‑Cola wanted to support him in his responsibility to help the community by providing him with the flexibility to balance his work with his firefighting commitments.
“I work heavily with global teams out of Atlanta, so it was firefighting by day, and Coca‑Cola by night,” he said.
“The support of Coke during the fire emergency, not just for me but for communities was huge. I couldn’t have done what I did to help the community without the support of my employer.”
“Coca‑Cola Australia and Coca‑Cola Amatil's support was really great to see on the fire ground too. You'd see the Coke truck and you’d recognise it instantly. There were a lot of times that the water in our hands was a donated Coke product, and that was such a nice connection for me,” he said.
We know the long-lasting effects of the fire season are far from over, but we are committed to doing our part to help rebuild our country.
“Communities are our consumers, and our support can help them rebuild and recover as quickly as possible,” James said.
“From donating to communities to acknowledging the firefighters on the ground, it’s really important for organisations to show their support and desire to help communities, and do their part as a corporate citizen.”
What others are reading
More to enjoy