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Dedication to service awarded OAM

For Order of Australia Medal (OAM) recipient Paul Sweeney, humbled to be acknowledged in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List – doing what he does isn’t about rewards or awards – it’s about giving.

Mr Sweeney received the Australian Fire Service Medal for his contribution including 32 years as a volunteer. Mr Sweeney said when anyone sees the RFS firetruck, they know that the people on it are “well trained”.

The retired school teacher of 40 years was at Austral Public School for a number of years. The village of Austral in the Liverpool local government area was reliant on the brigade from Camden responding if needed. It was some distance away.

His motivation to become a Rural Fire Service volunteer was because he lived at Leppington at the time, and wanted to make sure there was help on hand in the event of a bushfire.

“My motivation [in the beginning] was to protect my house and to live.”

In 1989 at the Leppington Brigade he worked his way up – brigade training officer, brigade secretary, brigade treasurer, deputy captain, senior deputy captain, captain and also deputy group captain in the Camden district.

He said the NSW taxpayers paid for “his wages (as a teacher), put food on the table and enabled me to buy other things.”

He wanted to give back.

But joining the RFS became much more – it became an important community service.

“You help in the time of need.”

It is something his family has always done and he and late brother carried on that ethos.

Mr Sweeney eventually became a peer support officer with the Critical Incident Support Services (CISS) in 2002 and then a CISS duty officer in 2008 and currently serves in that role. As a senior member of CISS, he has attended many traumatic incidents and events and has performed an extraordinary number of hours in volunteer service.

He had also assisted with Queensland and South Australia bush fire investigations as well as training Korean wildfire investigators in 2014.

One of the highlights of his time as a volunteer beyond the RFS was volunteering in the Sydney 2000 Olympics as a lead trainer with the Olympics Volunteers in Police (OVIP).

“I saw Cathy Freeman run.”

Another highlight of his volunteering experience was in 2018 when he was part of a team of volunteers deployed to Gallipoli for the Anzac Day Service in Turkey. His role was to search bags of visitors and for him it was a privilege being at Gallipoli and witnessing the Dawn Service.

Service runs in the Sweeny family – Paul's brother the late Superintendent John Peter Sweeney (NSW Police) was award the Australian Police Medal (APM) in June 2004.

“I feel very humble accepting this award,” Mr Sweeney said.

“Our volunteers in the Rural Fire Service are ready to assist the community in their time of need across our wonderful state. I love serving our community.”

Mr Sweeney has lived in the Camden area all his life and doesn’t see himself living anywhere else.

“We are happy here because this is where we want to be,” the husband, father and grandfather said.

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