Few Sydneysiders know what it is like to live in a land of drought, fire and flooding rains better than the residents of St Albans.
Just 12 months ago, the semi-rural town on the north-western edge of Greater Sydney was preparing to face the devastating Gospers Mountain blaze.
After a hectic bushfire season that damaged local property and stretched firefighting resources, heavy rain in February washed away roads and left the area temporarily isolated.
This cycle of fire and flood is a regular occurrence for residents, but it requires a team effort to keep the community safe.
It is one of many communities across NSW heeding warnings from the SES and Bureau of Meteorology of more damaging wet weather this summer.
St Albans RFS captain Lilly Stepanovich said residents were once again ready to pitch in, as calls came from emergency services across the state for volunteers to get involved.
"[After] everything that we have gone through in the past 12 months, it's really important we keep an eye on our neighbours and touch base," she said.
Early rain, La Niña makes for a wet summer
Eastern Australia is currently experiencing a La Niña phase, where warmer northern waters typically lead to increased rainfall.
Sydney's dams are also above 90 per cent capacity — making the chances of flooding more likely, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
The areas around the Nepean, Hawkesbury and Georges Rivers are particularly vulnerable.
The SES is the lead agency during flooding and had already undertaken 181 rescues so far this year, according to assistant commissioner Nicole Hogan.
She said flash flooding was a particular concern in the coming months.
"Our focus this year is around significant rainfall that could potentially cause flash flooding or riverine flooding across NSW, so we are certainly prepared for that," she said.
Over the past year, there has been an influx of newcomers to St Albans with city dwellers looking for a tree change.
Ms Stepanovich said she would be relying on seasoned residents and volunteers to pass on crucial weather information.
"For the new folks who are not used to flooding and fire, they might get their first experience this year, they might be a little more stressed — but we do have a really good network," she said.
When the rain did begin to fall, stocking up on supplies and checking in on neighbours was essential.
"Other than that … it's pretty much travel by foot or dinghy," Ms Stepanovich said.
There are detailed guides for residents on how to prepare for storms and flooding.
How to lend a hand
After last summer's devastating bushfires, emergency services were inundated with enquiries from members of the public eager to find out how they could help.
RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd said 8,000 new members had completed their training in the past year.
He said there was always room for more, and there were plenty of diverse jobs that suited all skillsets.
"There's a job for everybody at the RFS … not just holding a hose, there are aviation or communication roles," he toldABC Radio Sydney's James Valentine.
He said volunteering for the RFS was not just up to rural residents. Those in the city could also play their part.
"It's about reaching out and finding where your nearest brigade is, it's whatever time you can give," he said.
He encouraged participants to get involved early.
"We can't just have people who want to jump on a fire truck that day," he said.
Social media, IT skills in demand
SES volunteer strategy manager Andrew McCullough said those working away from the frontline were crucial to their operations.
"We reimagined volunteering a couple of years ago to recognise that volunteering is changing," he said.
He said volunteers could be thousands of kilometres away and still contribute.
"We have a volunteer who works for us but lives in San Francisco who works on apps, so there are new ways of getting involved all the time," Mr McCullough said.
"Flood planning, working in the command centre and managing logistics — all of these things don't require having to be out in the field working in cold weather."
Those with skills in IT and social media were particularly useful.
"People don't fully comprehend the different types of roles we have," he said.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact NSW SES on 1800 201 000 or apply to the RFS at their website.ABC