AS THE rain teased, tickled and occasionally thrummed at Valla Hall today - the mood couldn't have been brighter, nor the smiles wider.
12 months ago many of those assembled in the hall were on the ridges and valleys for weeks on end in a pitched battle against the Kian Rd bushfire which brought so much damage and grief to the Nambucca.
Yet without the efforts of the Valla Rural Fire Service Brigade - and those of other RFS units and firefighting agencies - the loss would have been more profound.
Today it was the Valla brigade's turn to receive NSW Premier's Citations, a certificate and a commemorative cap - awarded to those who were operational in the 2019-20 year, and those who were crucial in support roles.
Special guests were RFS Lower North Coast Zone Officer Christian Yanni and Group 2 Captain Graeme Adair.
Christian mused that it was the biggest box of citations he had hoisted - a compliment to the number of those from Valla brigade involved in last year's campaign.
He read a letter in part from Trina Schmidt, an executive director with RFS:
"As you would be aware the 2019-2020 fire season was the most extraordinary ever seen in NSW.
"This event saw the NSW RFS respond to more than 11,400 bush and grass fires that burnt more than 5.5 million hectares: the equivalent of 6.2 per cent of the State.
"These fires destroyed 2448 homes, however the efforts of our firefighters saw 14,481 homes saved.
"I ... pass on my personal thanks for your unwavering commitment throughout this time. Whilst none of us wants to see a season like this again, I am proud that we have such passionate and dedicated people on our team."
Christian added that the local district office was thankful to brigades who were able to "get crews out day after day after day, for three months - it was exceptional".
As rain finally abated the threat from Kian Rd and the Carrai East fire at Kempsey, Christian found himself on the South Coast which was getting shredded in the New Year.
And even there, he was fielding inquiries from members up north as to when the 2020 firefighter training calendar would be released. "And I thought, are you nuts, we've been going since July (fighting fire)," Christian said.
Speaking on behalf of the local Group Captains, Graeme commended Valla on a "great job, and a fantastic turnout".
He also made special thanks to the partners and families of firefighters, as they were a key part in the ability to maintain a protracted campaign.
After the formalities, the brigade, family members and friends enjoyed a brigade Christmas barbecue - explaining the proliferation of Hawaiian shirts instead of firefighter clobber.
Footnote: Michael and Saxon Williams, Martin Cresswell and Matt Taylor also received citations but were not able to attend the presentation.