A pregnant volunteer firefighter has defended her decision to continue battling the powerful wildfires ravaging New South Wales, Australia.
"My community needs me," Kat Robinson-Williams told NBC News on Wednesday. "I'm not going to sit back and watch it go up in flames. It’s not who I am to do that when I know I can help."
Robinson-Williams spoke out about fighting the fires officials term "catastrophic" — the highest level of bush fire danger — after friends said they were concerned about her doing this while pregnant.
"Yes, I am a female. Yes, I am pregnant. Yes, I am going to the fires. And, yes I'll be alright," she wrote in a Nov. 10 Instagram post accompanied by a selfie from the back of a firetruck. Her message caught the media's attention and she was interviewed by the Australian news website 10 Daily.
The 23-year-old has been a volunteer member of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service for over a decade, continuing a family tradition that includes her grandmother, mother, uncle, father and brother. She says she learned everything she could from her grandmother, and began training as soon as she was allowed, at age 12.
Robinson-Williams, who is 13 weeks pregnant with her first child, says she's has "incredible" support from the fire service, and that her doctor is happy for her to fight fires as long as she wears the necessary personal protective gear, including a mask to prevent smoke inhalation.
She has spent the last three days on the ground with her crew while comments of support have poured in from friends and strangers — firefighters and civilians alike.
"It’s been pretty full on this last week-and-a-half. We’ve been pushed to our limits," Robinson-Williams said.
New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, has declared a state of emergency amid the fires, which have already killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes. About 1,000 firefighters were still on the ground tackling 69 fires burning across the state as of Wednesday night local time, the New South Wales Rural Fire Department said.
The fire season peaks during the Australian summer, which runs from December to February. Robinson-Williams hopes to keep fighting fires as long as possible into her pregnancy, something her mother did before her.
"My mum was pregnant with me back in the 1995 fire season running around all summer, and then I was born in January of 1996," she says. "I’m not the first pregnant firefighter and I guarantee you I'm not the last."