Larissa Nicholson October 24, 2013
Iranian refugee Iman Shirinia of Lyons has just returned to Canberra after helping fight bushfires in NSW. Photo: Melissa Adams
Iman Shirinia is just one of many firefighters who have travelled across state borders to lend a hand at the NSW fire front, taking risks to help protect the lives and property of others.
But the story of how he got there spans years, crosses oceans and features hardships of his own.
Mr Shirinia fled his native Iran in 2010 as a refugee and travelled to Indonesia before boarding a boat for the treacherous journey to Australia - an act that would have had him labelled an "illegal arrival" under the Abbott government's new terminology.
After being intercepted by Australian authorities, he spent about 20 months in detention centres where he struggled with depression and anxiety. He was admitted to hospital several times before being released into community detention in Canberra for about nine months.
The Lyons man smiles widely as he recalls when a caseworker called him to say he had been granted residency. ''I can't describe it because after a long time, it was about 29 months of waiting, finally I found that I am free, I can do whatever I like. It was very good,'' he said.
Mr Shirinia had worked in agriculture in Iran and wanted an outdoors job. After work experience within the ACT government, he was employed about three months ago on a seasonal basis at ACT Parks and Conservation.
He trained as a firefighter and left Canberra on Friday afternoon to help with back burning and directly attack the fires, working around Penrith, Mt Wilson and Mt Victoria.
Mr Shirinia said he was working with an experienced and supportive crew, so while he was sometimes fearful, he never felt his life was in danger. He has put his hand up to return to the fires this Friday. ''I really wanted to do something to help other people. I know life is a very short period and one of the things that gives meaning to our lives is helping each other,'' he said.
''When we are doing a job and when we finish the job, I feel very satisfied about what I did because I can see the difference that my job and my work can do for the community and for other people.''
Fire services manager Neil Cooper said Mr Shirinia was a joy to work with and was one of the first staff members to volunteer to go to the fires in NSW. ''That's pretty amazing. He's actually in another country, his adopted country, in effect putting his life on the line to protect other people's property,'' he said.
ACT Parks and Conservation has 150 trained firefighters, with 24 expected to travel to the NSW fires on Friday.