Long-time Lapstone firefighter John Fitzgerald was recently honoured with life membership of the Rural Fire Service Association.
"The award was a total surprise; I didn't know it was coming,'' Mr Fitzgerald said.
"But I couldn't have done this without the support of my wife, Linette; I thank her for it.''
Mr Fitzgerald is a founding member of the association established in 1996 to promote the interests of Rural Fire Service volunteers.
"We thought the volunteers needed an association to look after their interests and welfare,'' he said.
"We had our first meeting in Bathurst in 1997, 333 attended; we were so pleased.''
John and Linette Fitzgerald settled in the Lower Mountains in 1968.
"That year, 100 houses burnt down and four people died,'' Mr Fitzgerald said.
"We formed the Glenbrook-Lapstone Fire Brigade, but there was no equipment and we had to raise funds ourselves.
"We managed to buy an old fire engine, a 1942 Chevy Blitz and we wore one-piece boiler suits, helmets and boots we paid for ourselves.''
Mr Fitzgerald worked in human resources for the firm Hear My Music, which always gave him time off for fire-fighting.
"I've no idea how many fires I've fought,'' he said.
"The most dangerous one was the Canberra fire in 2003.
"A tree collapsed on me; if I'd been half a metre either side of it, its stem would have come right through my head.''
Although he survived, he was in rehabilitation for 11 months.
But he said he got back to supporting fellow firefighters and working for the association as soon as he could.
Mr Fitzgerald said the association provided a vital voice for volunteers.
He cited health and safety as one issue that was successfully raised.
"If one of our members is injured, the case goes through WorkCover who looks after them,'' Mr Fitzgerald said.
"We also have working groups that look at fatigue management, how much water volunteers should be drinking, things like that.
"The association is in a position to support the interests of all members and I believe members can look to the future with confidence.''