Filipino volunteer who saved Outback fire brigade celebrated in Australian Parliament

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A Filipino immigrant who helped a small Outback town keep its volunteer fire brigade was celebrated in the Australian Parliament on Thursday during a special sitting to welcome Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is on a state visit.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese praised Samson Bocul as an example of the Philippine diaspora’s willingness to give back to the community.

Bocul lives in the small South Australia state town of Port Wakefield. The community of 600 people was on the brink of disbanding its Country Fire Service in 2022 as it struggled to recruit volunteer firefighters.

Bocul, who immigrated in 2014, was the only person to respond to a last-ditch recruitment drive. He helped pave the way for a flood of Filipino recruits.

With the addition of Bucol’s family, friends and the wider Filipino community the Port Wakefield brigade is now almost staffed to capacity, said local brigade captain Warren Miller.

“His dedication to duty won the respect and affection of his fellow volunteers and he soon passed the word to others,” Albanese told Marcos.

“Today, a quarter of the members of the Country Fire Service are of Filipino descent and half of the cadets. Characteristic of the spirit of the Filipino diaspora that calls Australia home,” Albanese added.

Bocul’s contribution has previously been highlighted by the South Australia Country Fire Service. South Australia is an area larger than France and Germany combined with a population of fewer than 2 million. With most of the state threatened by wildfires, the government provides firefighting equipment and training to local volunteers who protect their own far-flung communities. The local brigades also respond to floods and other emergencies that threaten life and property.

Bocul said he had considered joining since seeing volunteers respond to flooding in Port Wakefield in 2016.

“I thought, ‘How can I join them?’ but I was too shy to ask at the time,” Bucol told a Country Fire Service publication recently.

“They gave me a warm welcome and good treatment,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Miller said the brigade was on the verge of closing when he launched the recruitment drive.

“It was either … do something or the place is going to close,” Miller said.

Bucol said: “That’s made me proud of myself, that as a Filipino we are all well known, that we are not bad people and we are doing well in the community.”

Port Wakefield has a relatively large Filipino population for South Australia, with 11.6% of the town having Philippines ancestry in 2021.

That proportion is only 1.2% across the state.

The Philippines has become Australia’s fifth largest source of immigrants, with a 400,000-strong diaspora in a national population of 27 million.

Albanese said Filipino-Australians had become famous for their generosity, hospitality and love of family.

“Renowned for their hard work and aspiration and always looking to give back to the community,” Albanese said.

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