THERE'S been debate this summer about whether it's right that the men and women who have been on the frontline of the state's bushfire battle are volunteers.
To some watching on from overseas, it must seem strange: a fighting force facing the most extreme conditions whose members are not paid and, what is worse, are costing themselves money in the process because they have had to take time off work.
Surely it's time to consider professionalism, some have asked.
Actually, it's not, according to NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons - and he must be in a good position to know.
"Well-intentioned people think there is something wrong with not paying volunteers, but volunteers don't want to be paid," he said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald published on the weekend. "Think of anything in your community that happens well and you will find it's underpinned by volunteerism."
The commissioner makes an interesting point: the members of the RFS are so dedicated, selfless and determined because of the fact they're volunteers, not despite it.
They have come to the organisation of their own accord willing to give up their time and serve others, so it shouldn't really be a surprise when they do just that (but on a much more heroic scale) when the call comes in a summer such as this.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons also made a telling observation about the diverse group of people volunteering attracts:
"As an employer, you could not recruit the skills mix you get from a team on one of our firetrucks, everything from academics to arty-farties, sports-mad types, retirees," he said. "It's an extraordinary blend of skills and experience, which makes them highly resourceful."
While many a modern workplace tries to (with good intentions) engineer diversity, the RFS has hit on a simpler formula: welcome everyone who wants to be involved.
Maybe some of those who've been part of the debate about our RFS have been looking at this the wrong way all along.
Rather than seeing our rural firefighting force and its army of retirees, teens, farmers, "arty-farties", "sports-mad types" and all the rest as anachronistic, perhaps we should be seeing it as miraculous.
Rather than looking for ways to change it, maybe we should be looking for ways to replicate it.