After last summer's devastating bushfires, NSW emergency services minister David Elliott said he no longer referred to frontline responders as either "professional" or "volunteer".
"We took a lot of lessons away from the way we responded to last year's bushfire disaster," he said. "One of the things that I've decided, I'm never going to use the words 'professional' and 'volunteer' emergency service responders because that's suggesting that the volunteers aren't professional.
"They're now 'salary' and 'volunteer' - they're all professional, because we saw an extreme level of professionalism from the volunteer agencies - VRA, RFS, SES, over the course of the fire season."
Mr Elliott made the comments while presenting NSW Premier's Bushfire Emergency Citations to 11 members of Cessnock District Rescue Squad for their efforts in the 2019/20 bushfires. He also presented the squad with a defibrillator.
Citations have been presented to 65,000 emergency services personnel, including several firefighting brigades in the Hunter, for their contributions in battling the deadly blazes.
The rescue squad assisted mainly at Wollombi and Laguna, where members spent several days assisting firefighters in door knocking and evacuating residents as the fire front approached and gathering data for fire crews.
"The RFS couldn't get to every isolated property, and needed to make sure every resident was aware," Cessnock District Rescue Squad rescue operator and former captain Trevor Milgate said.
"They were little jobs but they were important jobs."
Two VRA members were also called down to Narooma and Bega to assist with the emergency response on the south coast.
Mr Elliott, who ironically was in London visiting the grave of his Cessnock-bred uncle when the bushfires broke out last summer and had to make a hasty return, acknowledged that a lot of the volunteers would have trouble accepting praise for their efforts, but urged them to do not just for themselves, but for their families.
"When we all finish our service in this world, these are the sort of things that your families and your children and your grandchildren will celebrate," he said.
"These citations in my mind are the least the government can do."
Cessnock VRA captain Paul Hampton said it was great to be acknowledged with the citations.
"There were a lot of people who did a lot for the bushfires," he said.
"Our effort was minuscule, but we were glad to help."
Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said while the rescue squad may not have been the main agency on the front line of the bushfires, they often were the first responders at other emergencies, and their efforts deserved to be acknowledged.
Mr Elliott said while he would like to say the season ahead would be better than the last, recent growth due to wet weather and increased domestic tourism putting more cars on the road could lead to another busy summer for the VRA.