The scariest moment in John Cunningham's time as a volunteer firefighter was the day a fire tornado hit his truck.
He was out on Tidbinbilla Road with a few "newbies" in an old Bedford during the 2003 fires when the five-metre-wide rotating vortex of flame started hurtling towards them.
"It was sucking everything off the ground and the sky was burning," Mr Cunningham said.
He was forced to leave the burning truck to put it out before the fire burnt through their brake lines, which would've left them stranded in the middle of an inferno.
"As it came over, I was looking up and I could see the sky through the tunnel."
Mr Cunningham was awarded the Rural Fire Services long service award for his 30 years of service as a firefighter volunteer for ACT Rural Fire Services this week.
He's been deputy captain of the Southern Districts brigade at Tharwa for more than 20 years, a training officer for five years, a life member of Apex Australia and works as a superintendent for the Australian Border Force looking after their infrastructure.
Mr Cunningham has earned "a couple" of awards in his time as a volunteer, which you get the feeling is his modest bloke-speak for "a lot". But this medal means more to him than the others.
"Whilst this is a service award recognising the length of service, when I look at it, I see friends or people that I know who have passed on and I see the different people I've served with that have now moved on to do other things," he said.
"I recognise the journey where there's been things learnt, not just the academic stuff like how to use a chainsaw, but how to manage a team under highly stressful situations."
Mr Cunningham loves telling stories. You get the impression he has a bottomless well of interesting experiences if only you had a couple more lives to hear them.
He remembers a time in 2002 on Christmas Eve when he responded "lights and sirens" to a fire near Canberra zoo.
"When we got there, the fire jumped over the lake - it was one of the fastest fires I've ever seen," he says.
"It came through the governor-general's house and through the Royal Australian Mint - we could barely catch it."
Eventually it reached the top of Red Hill, a suburb where more than 3000 people lived, and started tearing down towards the houses and shops where Mr Cunningham and half a dozen other units only just managed to put it out.
The American Embassy ended up donating $10,000 to the brigade because they stopped the "phenomenal" fire reaching their residence.
Another time, he was called out to a fire in Cota late one night where he looked into a hole in the ground to discover it was "white hot" underneath him.
He realised that he'd just parked the truck on top of a 15 metre underground tunnel of burning pine trees that had been buried under dirt.
"The captain and myself were a little nervy at the time but you just keep calm, you can't over react, you just have to go with it," he said.
Whilst there's been some fun and scary times during his time as a volunteer, there's also been plenty of sad times too.
Mr Cunningham witnessed the horror of the Marysville fires in Victoria in 2009 where he saw the destruction and devastation it brought to the community and people there.
"I remember talking to one of the firies in Marysville and he was really just devastated. I gave him a bit of a hug as you do, because he was losing it.
"He was saying he got to the point where he could only defend one house and one space, and he knew that there were people in houses down the road that were burning but he just couldn't be in multiple places."
As he gives his rescued husky Sammy a belly rub, Mr Cunningham stresses how important the support of his family and work have been during his time volunteering.
From being locked in a shipping container with burning furniture as part of a training drill, to setting up the Sydney Olympics torch, volunteering with the ACT RFS has kept life interesting for him.
"For any person considering community volunteering, the RFS is well worth considering," he said.
Twenty-two rural fire service members were awarded medals for long service on Monday.