Bruce Cameron has witnessed some of the world's worst natural disasters in 32 years as a firefighter but it is his childhood memories of the 1968 Blue Mountains bushfires that are among his most vivid.
"The first real fire I can remember is being sent home from [Glenbrook Infants] school in 1968 . . . I still remember walking home and there were burning leaves falling out of the sky'," he said.
That early brush with fire led to a distinguished career which saw Mr Cameron awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal in Monday's Queen's Birthday Honours.
"It was a total surprise. You don't think these type of honours are available for someone working at the coal face," he said.
That coal face has often been a harrowing one.
Mr Cameron was deployed to Banda Aceh just four days after the tsunami struck in 2004, and witnessed more devastation firsthand in last year's Christchurch earthquake.
The Sun Valley resident was part of team that pulled a 53-year-old alive out the rubble in New Zealand and said it was moments like this that make the job worthwhile.
"It is really austere and challenging [at major disasters] but at the same time it is really rewarding," he said.
Mr Cameron has also been instrumental in developing urban search and rescue training packages for all emergency service personnel and has received several other commendations for his firefighting achievements.
Currently stationed at Regentville, he gave up a carpentry apprenticeship as a teenager to become a firefighter - a decision he has never regretted.
"To sum up the job, you go to work and you really don't know what you're going to be confronted with . . . I still find it constantly challenging," he said.