IT is a night that has been etched in the memory of captain Loryn Mendham and deputy captain Tania Burger.
The Mid North Coast was being engulfed in flames from every direction and at the Rural Fire Service (RFS) control centre in Wauchope, the duo were fielding hundreds of calls from local crews - many of them pleading for emergency support as lives and homes were under threat.
If the Black Summer bushfires had a darkest day - the night of November 8-9, 2019 would be it.
Both Loryn and Tania led the charge at the communications headquarters surrounded by maps plotting second by second where their crews were and the severity of the threat they faced.
This week, they were among hundreds of volunteer fire fighters from across NSW recognised with prestigious awards from the NSW RFS as part of the organisation's annual commendations for exceptional service and bravery.
Usually held on the fourth of May each year, the award ceremony coincides with the Feast Day of St Florian, Patron Saint of Firefighters and International Firefighters' Day.
Loryn and Tania were awarded Commissioner's Certificates of Commendation recognising their outstanding actions in relation to fire service duties during the 2019-20 fire season, particularly the role they played during the fire event that impacted Johns River, Bobin, Killabakh, Rainbow Flat, Koorainghat and Hillville.
They are proud of the honour but both agree it's what they can give back to their community through their volunteer service that means the most.
Tania, who volunteers three days a week, devoted more than 500 hours of radio communications during the fire season to both aircraft and appliance units, while Loryn's ability to manage highly stressful, quickly evolving situations showed extraordinary leadership.
The mum of one and partner to Chris Wilson, who is also an RFS district officer, juggles a job in childcare, university study and sporting commitments on top of her volunteer commitment.
"I've got a three and a half year old daughter. If anything, all of this will show her what a good role model is and how important it is to give back to a community who gives to them," Loryn said.
Tania, who lives with autism, values the personal growth and learnings from such a traumatic shared community experience.
"It's resilience. In this situation I was able to focus on a level I've never been able to achieve before," Tania said. "I learned that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was - physically, mentally, emotionally - and being able to work as a part of a team."
Loryn said the two life-threatening nights for the Mid North Coast during the Black Summer fires challenged her emotionally.
"Some of the calls I got on those two nights in particular were really, really emotionally draining," she explained.
"I've been part of RFS comms now for six years and it was the first time I've ever received emergency calls over the radio saying we need ambulances, there are fires that are impacting on people and vehicles. You train for it - but it's totally different in real life.
"I learned a lot about myself in terms of being able to put my emotions to the side and just do the job."
Tania and Loryn praised the team effort at the RFS headquarters and the culture of care.
Minister David Elliott said the event was an opportunity to come together to officially thank NSW RFS volunteers for their ongoing hard work and professionalism.
"We are enormously grateful for these men and women who selflessly serve our communities and respond to all types of fires and emergencies around the clock. We pay tribute to those brave members and their dedication to protect the irreplaceable," Mr Elliott said.
RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said this year's recipients demonstrated extreme acts of bravery in the face of horrific conditions experienced during the 2019/2020 Black Summer bush fires.
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