Passion for heritage rewarded

Museum of Fire chairman and St Marys Hazmat firefighter Mark White, who will receive an OAM in the Australia Day Honours.A Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in recognition of his service to the Museum of Fire came out of the blue for chairman Mark White.

“I’m incredibly honoured,” the St Clair resident said.

He joins St Clair High School principal Chris Presland who was awarded the Public Service Medal in yesterday’s Australia Day honours for his “outstanding public service to education” in a 34 year career.

Mr White said his background with the museum is close to 40 years.

“So it’s been a long journey,” he said.

“A lot of people have been involved with it so I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great honour to be recognised by our nation and community but it’s not the reason why I do it.”

Mr White has also battled countless blazes in his 41-year career with NSW Fire and Rescue and is a Hazmat firefighter at St Marys station.

“I enjoy the community service,” he said.

“Helping others is the reason why firefighters join the brigade.”

Mr White has been a Museum of Fire board member since 1976, chairman since 1982 and voluntary chief executive since 2000.

Originally based in Sydney, the relocated Museum of Fire opened in Penrith in 1987 and has become a nationally recognised education centre that delivers programs to the community.

It has 80 vehicles and 10,000 historical items dating back to the early 1800s and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the region each year, including 20,000 to the Penrith Working Truck Show held in March each year.

“It’s one of the three emergency services that are the backbone of the community. People have a lot of respect for the fire brigade,” Mr White said.

The museum is run mostly by volunteers.

Mr White concedes it struggles without government support and has had to develop unique and interesting ways to fund itself.

“It’s a great place that’s very special to us and the community,” he said.

“It’s a struggle to receive equitable funding for what’s a major institution. It’s also very hard these days to find people who have the time to volunteer.

“But I have a great belief in the place and get more out of seeing visitors enjoy the museum.

“Seeing the smiles of the kids makes it all worth it. I’m thrilled with where the museum is at and where it has come from.”

Mr White said his work with the museum and NSW Fire and Rescue wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his wife Liz and their three sons.

“They have been a huge support and have all been involved with the museum in some way,” he said.

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