After 35 years, farewell for Batlow firefighter

Firefighter Royce Lett is retiring from Batlow Fire and Rescue after 35 years.

Fire and Rescue NSW Station 218 Batlow farewelled one of their finest last week, 35 years to the day after his first shift.

Veteran firefighter Royce Lett was described as a “gentleman” and “committed” by RSAC Relieving Duty Commander Phillip Eberle. Inspector Eberle led the formal farewell at the Batlow RSL Club on Sunday, sharing the duties with FRNSW Chief Superintendent Greg Buckley and Duty Commander Tom Freedom. Superintendent Freedom was on leave, but made the trip to Batlow to mark the “momentous occasion.”

“We see people come and go in this organisation a lot,” said Supt Freedom. “Not everyone makes 35 years. It’s quite a remarkable achievement.”

Supt Freedom told the gathering of firefighters and families that there was something special about Batlow and something special about Mr Lett.

“I’ve really come to like this fellow. Everybody here has some kind of attachment to this man,” he said.

A testament to Mr Lett’s selfless nature:  when he heard the station was going to have a plaque commissioned for his farewell, he refused to let them outsource the work and instead built his own plaque.

“People like Royce in the community are what keeps the community going, whether they work for Fire and Rescue NSW or in the recovery from the bushfires,” said Inspector Eberle. 

Records for Station 218 Batlow only go back to 1987, two years after Mr Lett joined, but they show an impressive history of community response. Since that time, there have been a total of 635 fire calls for the Batlow station. Of those calls, 252 were actual fires, 51 were non-fire rescue calls, 51 were for hazardous conditions (such as a truck rollover or industrial call) and 43 were ‘good intent’ calls for welfare or community checks. Mr Lett has attended between 90-95 per cent of all calls.

One of Mr Lett’s last duties was to assist with a community safety day on Saturday, during which 130 Batlow homes were visited and 90 smoke alarms were put in. 

“That’s truly a wonderful reflection on the man that you are,” said Chief Supt Greg Buckley.

Inspector Eberle said he had personally promised Mr Lett that he would find new recruits to take up the slack while Mr Lett enjoys his retirement with his wife Jacky. 

Mrs Lett was also thanked by the 218 Station with a bouquet of flowers for her decades of support during early morning calls and dangerous summers.

Mr Lett said the time had come to retire.

“Physically, I’ve passed my used-by date, and I’ve only been hanging in the last five years because our numbers have been down,” he said.

“I thought ‘I’ve got 35 years coming up, I have to leave. Luckily there are another two or three (recruits) in the pipeline to come in, which is good.”

Mr Lett’s reason for joining up all those years ago was simple.

“It was just the thought of being a little more useful to the community,” he said.

“I thought about it for roughly six months before I joined. The captain actually saw me one day and said ‘have you ever thought about joining the fire brigade?’  and I said ‘yeah’ and he said alright, be at the station Tuesday night at 7.30 for drill, so I turned up, and that was it.”

His 35-year firefighter experience has been in line with the expectations he had back then. 

Mr Lett has lived in Batlow since he was three (he’s now 72) so serving the Batlow community is something that comes naturally.

As far as highlights are concerned, there isn’t any particular moment that stands out, but the best part has been working with his fellow Batlow Fire and Rescue crew.

“They’re all good; I ‘ve seen quite a few of them come and go since I’ve been in,” he said.

“Probably the best times are when we have a call out and it turns out to be a false alarm; no one’s injured, no property’s lost; that’s the good side.”

Of course, that is very often not the case.

“The hardest thing is when we end up going to a call out, and someone has lost their life in a motor vehicle accident of some such; that’s the worst,” he said.

One memory that will stand out is battling the fires that hit Batlow so hard in January this year.

“It was really difficult,” he recalled.

“We were on the go so much we didn’t have time to think about things much.

“I dare say it could have been a bit scary if we had time to think about it. We just got stuck in; went from one job to another.”

He had never seen a fire crisis like that ever before.

“No, nothing like that,” he said.  

Inspector Eberle said anyone interested in applying for a position with Fire and Rescue NSW should visit https://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/ and follow the prompts for part-time retained positions.

“We need people to put pen to paper,” said Inspector Eberle. “People who will be committed to a team of local community members whose end desire is to make people’s lives better during their worst times.”