Tim Lidden remembers the moment he realised that volunteering in Wagga was for him.
“I was 18 and my uncle at the time was with the VRA (Volunteer Rescue Association) and he needed help on the river for the local Gumi race,” Mr Lidden said.
The memories are still fresh for Mr Lidden, who got a pair of prestigious awards at the weekend, being named NSW VRA and overall officer of the year at the annual Rotary awards for all emergency service volunteers.
“I was speechless. I honestly didn’t expect to win. I couldn’t believe it,” Mr Lidden said.
Presenting the award, NSW Governor, His Excellency General David Hurley, warmly congratulated Wagga’s hero.
‘These awards acknowledge and celebrate the outstanding community services provided by emergency services personnel, both paid and volunteer, across New South Wales – in keeping with Rotary’s motto of ‘Service Above Self’,” Governor Hurley said.
For the past 25 years, every Monday night Mr Lidden has trained at Wagga Rescue Squad’s headquarters to respond to everything from boats, road crashes, floods and fires.
Throughout that time, he’s seen it all. One of the most difficult jobs was in 2011, when Mr Lidden found the body of a seven-year-old Sudanese boy who’d been swept away while playing with his brother and a friend in the Murrumbidgee River.
“The family didn’t jump in because they thought the river had crocodiles in it,” Mr Lidden remembered.
In 2009, Mr Lidden was sent to Victoria during the catastrophic Black Saturday bushfires that claimed the lives of 173 people.
“The pager went off saying we had one hour to get our gear ready and leave. That fire destroyed everything,” Mr Lidden said.
When Wagga flooded in 2010 and 2012, Mr Lidden was there.
“We had to do welfare checks as some property owners in North Wagga didn’t want to leave,” he recalled.
VRA squad president Ken Middleton recalled when Mr Lidden went out of his way to help a farmer whose 30 sheep were trapped in a shed on stilts.
“Tim just finished up, then went back out to help a farmer save those sheep,” Mr Middleton said. “He’s spent 25 years taking time out of his life to help people and he’s doing it off his own back.”
2017 is the year of good things coming in twos for Mr Lidden, whose wife Rachel is preparing to give birth to twin girls in December.
“I’ve got four months of sleep left, then there might be some fishing trips coming up!” Mr Lidden laughed.