As a raging fire edged closer to their Kambah home in 2003, Gloria Jackson and Malcom Harrington were armed with a garden hose.
In the heat of the moment, Ms Jackson took up a position at the back fence and began to spray.
"Even though I was hitting the embers as they came over, I can hardly remember it except seeing this brown swirl, like a tornado, coming down the hill and going away," Ms Jackson said.
"I thought, 'Oh, thank goodness for that'. Then it came back."
Remarkably, Ms Jackson managed to save the house, but the experience inspired the pair to think about how to be better prepared.
The answer arrived quickly in the form of ACT Fire and Rescue's community fire units program, which began in late 2003.
Ms Jackson and Mr Harrington were among the first to sign up when they joined in 2004. Fifteen years on they remain members of Unit 15, which is one of two volunteer crews in their part of Kambah, and one of four across the suburb.
The community fire unit program aims to train and equip residents to defend their own homes and those belonging to their neighbours.
Volunteers take preventative action including developing survival plans and cleaning gutters, and during fires they help buy valuable time for emergency services by tackling blazes near their home until firefighters arrive.
Volunteers receive ongoing training from ACT Fire and Rescue, but the initial process to join consists of a four-hour online learning course and a one-day practical training session at the Hume Training Centre.
Once these are completed, volunteers are given personal protective clothing and assigned to a unit, each of which has a trailer full of firefighting equipment.
One of these trailers is stored outside Mr Harrington and Ms Jackson's home and includes a range of gear like 240 metres of hose, standpipes that allow volunteers to connect hoses to fire hydrants, and radios with which to contact the Emergency Services Agency communications centre and other units.
Mr Harrington encouraged people who did not necessarily live right on the urban fringe to also join a community fire unit.
He said once a house adjacent to bushland caught fire, the chances of other houses nearby also going up in flames increased, meaning it was in everyone's best interests to protect the first row of houses in a fire's path.
"One of the key issues is that people will want to protect their own houses, so it would be great if we had members who were a block or two blocks back from the fire front to come up and help those people protect their houses, or the immediate neighbours' houses," Mr Harrington said.
ACT Fire and Rescue community fire unit co-ordinator Tony Wiggan said there were about 800 volunteers signed up across 57 units. A 58th unit was in the process of being set up, and he anticipated that by the end of April there would be 1000 volunteers across the program.
Mr Wiggan said the recruitment area for community fire units previously spanned "two or three streets back from the urban interface", but it had now been expanded so anyone living in a suburb with a unit could join.
"The more people we can have out there on a severe fire day, the easier it's going to be for everybody," he said.
"If we can get people out on the ends of hoses, wetting everything down, we're going to have less fire spread."
- For more information on community fire units and to join, visit the Emergency Services Agency website.