Home fires

When Naomi O'Byrne isn't fighting fires and maintaining parks, she's sharing a smile with her teenage daughter, Sarah. 133341 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By LACHLAN MOORHEAD

NAOMI’S a fighter.
Once her shift ends battling bushfires, another job begins.
The single mum returns to her Narre Warren home to tend to her 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, who was born with a developmental delay and suffers from epilepsy and autism.
Park ranger Naomi O’Byrne can speak to her daughter but Sarah can’t speak back. The teenager understands her mother but only uses sounds and gestures to respond.
“Sarah means the world to me. She’s the reason I exist,” Naomi, 47, said.
“If she’s gone for more than a couple of days I start to worry. I miss her; I think there’s something missing.
“She’s obviously a part of me and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
“She gives me joy. She’s funny, she’s resilient, and she’s great to be around.”
In addition to Naomi’s 25-year employment with Parks Victoria, the super mum volunteers regularly with the CFA and is a passionate member of Carers Victoria.
Two weeks ago Naomi was part of a group that travelled to Horsham to relieve local firefighters as they battled a blaze in the Grampians.
In 2009, when Naomi was working at Bunyip State Park, she found herself on the front line as bush fires which devastated half of the area in the days leading up to Black Saturday.
On that fateful day, Naomi was stationed at the Pakenham Incident Control Centre.
“You feel so helpless because we’re doing the best job we can and we’re doing everything right but people just weren’t heeding the messages that were sending out and people just underestimated the fire intensity and the extent of the fire,” Naomi said.
“We all suffered mentally. For me, personally, it was seeing the damage that had occurred to my park because we love what we do and we’re passionate about it.
“It’s not about the money; it’s about the environment and the love of the job. And to see the devastation… the wildlife gone, trees were just black and scarred.”
Naomi’s draws on support from her family and friends to juggle all the commitments in her life with all roads leading back to her number one priority – Sarah.
After becoming a single parent, she found help through becoming a member of Carers Victoria, meeting other people with shared experiences.
“Having someone who understands, that’s not judgemental, is really important as a carer,” she said.
“Life is just a total struggle. So having someone that can relieve that pressure and take it all away and give you some time to reflect and be supportive is fantastic.”
For more information, contact www.carersvictoria.org.au.

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