Ausnew Home Care | Deaf Indigenous firefighter James Tucker 'shows the way' as he protects his country

Deaf Indigenous firefighter James Tucker 'shows the way' as he protects his country

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As James Tucker leaps off the back of a fire truck at the end of a long shift in outback Western Australia, a colleague calls out to ask if he's going home.

The question is answered with a thumbs-up and a wave, because Mr Tucker was born deaf in both ears.

It's been a battle for him to get out and fight fires – and one that still makes his mum nervous – but he knows what he's doing.

Since last summer the Parks and Wildlife ranger has been working with the department's Goldfields fire suppression team, and the position was hard-earned.

A group of smiling firefighters standing around a truck in the desert.
Mr Tucker says he loves working with his crew.(Supplied: DBCA)

Mr Tucker, whose hearing impairment was diagnosed when he was two, learnt to use sign language and lip read as a child.

After he graduated from high school he repeatedly applied to become a ranger and eventually secured a casual position.

His dedication did not go unnoticed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), which offered him a full-time job in conservation.

Firefighters spray their hoses into shrubs in the outback, as seen from above.
El Niño has been declared and the summer to come could be dangerous.(Supplied: DBCA)

But Mr Tucker always wanted to fight fires and put his mind and body into achieving his goal.

"I trained hard doing courses, medicals and the fire fitness test," he said.

Ultimately, it was a chance encounter with the "big boss" at a conference in Perth that led to Mr Tucker's name finally being added to the emergency fire roll.

A bearded Indigenous man in firefighting gear stands at the back of a truck in the outback.
Mr Tucker worked hard to become a ranger and he wasn't going to give up on becoming a firefighter.(Supplied: DBCA)

'He shows the way'

Mr Tucker's work involves prescribed burning, mopping up and extinguishing fires ahead  of what is expected to be a hot, dry fire season.

He says he enjoys helping the team and the feeling is mutual — fire management operations officer Chris Curtis describes his colleague's work ethic as "amazing".

Mr Curtis says the team made a few adjustments to ensure Mr Tucker can work safely, including the use of fire-specific hand signals, a vibrating radio and colour-coded cards.

A man's hand holding cards that say "pack up, get in the truck" and "drop everything, get in the truck".
Green cards mean all is well, but red is a different story.(Supplied: DBCA)

Mr Tucker says he is driven by a desire to "protect the land, animals and sites in the Goldfields area", which is his country.

"He shows the way for local Aboriginal people," Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions joint management coordinator Peter Batt says.

"There's a career for local people in the department working out on country, doing really good work."

A man in work gear kneels down as he inspects a camera in bushland.
Mr Tucker checks the camera for malleefowl sightings.(Supplied: DBCA)

When Mr Tucker is not on fire duty, he's working in conservation with ranger Tiana Jones.

She needs her iPad to find the cameras set up to survey malleefowl, but Mr Tucker relies on his memory and knowledge of the bush.

A smiling young woman in dark coveralls stands in the desert.
Tiana Jones Mr Tucker's knowledge is invaluable to their work.(ABC Goldfields: Giulia Bertoglio)

'Nothing's too hard'

Ms Jones says having inclusive workplaces benefits everyone.

"If we don't [them] include that just because of their disability, we are probably missing out on some great knowledge.

"It's quite easy if you have someone who is willing to try and keen to be there — attitude comes into it a lot."

Two men in fire uniforms walk through a rocky area in the outback.
Wyvern Dimer says Mr Tucker goes "straight in" when he's on the job.(Supplied: DBCA)

Like his other teammates, Wyvern Dimer admires Mr Tucker's approach to the job.

"Nothing's too hard for him really — if he can give it a go, he'll give it a go".


Source: ABC

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