23 December 2023

First Islander firefighter joins 30-year veteran at Yenda station, helps put out six house fires

| Oliver Jacques
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Two firefighters outside station

Gavin Raccenello is delighted to have Feofaaki “Aki” Alofi in his squad. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Tongan-born Feofaaki “Aki” Alofi has become the first ever Pacific Islander to be recruited at Yenda’s Fire and Rescue station and has already helped put out six house fires since his induction in August.

“I really wanted to be part of what they’re doing here and help out the community,” he said. “Since I’ve joined, a lot of Tongans and other Islanders keep asking me questions about what’s it’s like.”

He’s impressed his captain Gavin Raccanello, a 30-year-veteran who is keen to enhance the diversity of his squad.

“Our colleagues in Griffith have expressed their positive feedback about Aki. We are appreciative of him joining the team; he’s a champion bloke,” he said.

“We encourage people of all backgrounds, genders and ages to consider joining Fire and Rescue. Multiple stations across our region are looking for firefighters.”

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Mr Alofi, 34, is a winery employee who previously played as a flanker for the Griffith Blacks rugby union team and as a prop for league’s Griffith Waratahs. He said he wasn’t at all daunted by his first house fire.

“We learned a lot at training; they prepare us for it. It wasn’t that scary going out – I felt prepared.”

Feofaaki "Aki" Alofi by fire truck

Feofaaki “Aki” Alofi is also a keen rugby player. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Mr Raccenello said training and support for new recruits was much better now than when he started in 1994.

“I remember joining in my first week – training was nothing like they have now. We got in an ill-fitting uniform, and you’d hop on the job straight away. We can see how the organisation has evolved since then.

“You get looked after well. You can find an application pack through our website, apply through I work for NSW, then you do an interview; if successful, a fully reimbursed medical, then a physical aptitude test and then subject to clearance you’ll become a recruit firefighter.

“Everyone successful in recruitment needs to do eight days’ training. Our major training facility is in Sydney – they cover the flights, accommodation, food and compensate you for time off work.

“We also get paid – we get reimbursed for callouts, training and travel. Everything is provided in terms of uniform, etc. Nothing comes out of your pocket. The Fire Brigade Employees Union has ensured we are supported well.”

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Mr Alofi will soon take some time off as he prepares for the birth of his fourth child.

“He will be eligible for paternity leave; that’s the benefit of the organisation,” Mr Raccanello said.

“He deserves it. He’s been amazing. He hit the ground running to tackle multiple house fires. There’s nothing like facing the challenge of a fire.”

Anyone interested in becoming an on-call firefighter can obtain an application pack from the NSW Fire and Rescue website.

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