As the fire threat around the nation finally eases with welcomed rains, NEC pays tribute to its staff who selflessly volunteered their time and expertise this devastating season to join the firefighting efforts. We also recognise the sacrifices of their families.
Here is a snapshot of some of their experiences
Meet Dale, one of the unsung civic-minded volunteer firefighters who works with us at NEC
We are always prepared for fires over summer and history shows us that fire in the Australian landscape is a fact of life. However, there as been a drop in rainfall over a number of years across certain parts of the country, that does increase the chances of more severe fire behaviour should a fire start. The major difference this season is the scale and amount of fires that started in inaccessible areas. Also how early in the season they have started. We still have the rest of February, where we will see higher temps, and low rainfall.
This summer, apart from Local Bridge response, I have been deployed to NSW – in the Batemans Bay/Shoalhaven area. We were there for 6 days. Also to Mt Mercer, west of Geelong.
It is absolutely devastating that some firefighters have passed away, or been seriously injured. When we were in NSW and not far from us, two firefighters died in a truck rollover after a tree fell onto the road, from what we understood they were leaving the fire ground via convoy. It really hit home as we were all in the same situation that evening, we made it out OK, and they didn’t.
Meet Peter and Michele Kampen from the small rural community of Kiewa
East Lynne Service station (South Coast NSW) was our first major defence on day one. At 10pm that night, after defending a few smaller properties, we were hit with a 30m wave of fire from ground to tree tops. We had set in well and had 5+ trucks on scene. I really only know the area I was in, there may have been more around. That was my first ever “holy #@%t” moment as we now call them. We stood 5-10 metres from the tree line and miraculously the fire died and dropped in front of us as it ran out of stuff to burn. We did not put a drop of water on the actual fire, only taking out the spot fires as they popped up around the buildings. The fire jumped the road there and continued towards the beach.
Day two. We were stationed a few kilometres down the road. We kept moving forward as the fire approached us. Around 2pm we were told to pick a house and defend it. We arrived at the first house being defended by one man, two pumps and a swimming pool. We arrived in hail of fire and smoke (holy s#*^ moment #2) to the point that all the oxygen was sucked out and I was unable to breathe for a minute. We quickly setup under fire and successfully defended the property. We left within an hour and moved on to other properties. By this stage the beautiful bush driveways were nothing but a blackened mess with power lines down on the roads.
During this time, my concerned family was asking for updates. I would send them photos of the beach and pools taken during the half hour of down time we got per day. I never once mentioned I was doing anything as crazy as standing next to a petrol station in a raging inferno.
My wife, Michele, also played a brave and key role fighting the fires On December 30, we were paged to fires in Victoria, known as the Walwa/Corryong fires. Cudgewa lost over 50% of the small town and all grazing land.
Our Kiewa tanker was caught in an ember shower and whirlwind (the same that one that flipped two RFS tankers and killed a member). Our truck is 14 tonnes and they claim it lifted theirs. Two members had their helmets torn off in the wind, one receiving burns to his head and face. This brave guy went back in the next day with his wife’s helmet. And that is just one example of hundreds of selfless acts of courage across the nation.
Steve has been fighting fires for the community for over 15 years
Steve has been fighting fires for the community for over 15 years. I worked on the “Cudlee Creek” fire in the Adelaide Hills which made it to the edge of my town. Unfortunately some of the properties outside the township have been razed but somehow the township itself survived. The fire had a greater impact on neighbouring towns.
I was a teenager during Ash Wednesday and watched the Black Saturday fires in Victoria on the news. I was involved in the Eden Valley and Sampson Flat fires 5 years ago, so wasn't all that surprised about the ferocity and devastation. What surprised me this time was that it was happening in so many places around the country at the same time.
The most heart-wrenching thing for me was standing with the crew protecting a house from catching fire, while watching and listening to the house next door die. At one point, it sounded like all the ghosts had left the building, and then reminded me of the Terminator dying in one of those movies.
"Two years later I’m still fighting fires and voluntering, so I guess I made the right decision to join."
We just moved to an area farther up the road where the smoke was quite dense and we were tasked to ensure the fire did not jump across the fire break which was the road. But a few minutes later, we were ordered to get out of the area as the wind picked up and the fire had jumped the break.
As we were driving back, we discovered that the vegetation on both sides of the road had been engulfed in flames - nearly three storeys high! The heat was really intense, even while inside the fire truck. If we were minutes later, it would’ve been a really bad situation for the crew and myself.
Thankfully, we were on paved roads and that ensured a quick getaway through the impending fire front. If we were off road, we definitely had to use another exit strategy as it is impossible to outrun a fire that was that terribly close.
The devastation that the fire has caused to surrounding areas of Yanchep and Two Rocks is heart-wrenching. Many times the fires were really close to burning down the residential areas but thanks to the great work of my firefighting peers, we prevented the worst from happening.
Leon by day
Senior Business Analyst
Leon in action
Meet Alan, an SES volunteer serving his community
The bushfire crisis has devastated towns and infrastructure across Australia and our SES units are key in our response to these emergencies.
We were on call 24 hours a day to respond to rescue incidents. We had to be mindful of not becoming too fatigued, so that we were always ready to respond. Unlike other roles, there were no shifts, no down time. We had to be ready at any point during the day.
My first task was to go to the ICC in Gisborne, Victoria, where I acted as the agency liaison for the incident control team. Each agency provides a liaison, and when an incident occurs, they give advice about what resources or skills their agency can provide. They also act as a conduit between the ICC and their agency.
I was then deployed to the Tambo Valley, based in Swifts Creek and Omeo where I joined a specialist road crash rescue team to provide a rescue capability to that area.
I met an elderly couple east of Omeo who had been defending their cattle property for 44 days at that point, and they were exhausted. I don’t think I have ever seen people looking so drained and unwell. They had battled two fire fronts only a few weeks apart. They didn’t have any drinking water left. Like many of the people up there, they hadn’t previously sought help from a relief centre because they preferred to be independent. We gave them water, and encouraged them to visit the relief centre.
Meet Frank Pitinga, veteran firefighter and operations expert
Family is everything and their support for me in these activities is unquestionable, however, they would not be human if they did not have concerns for my safety. Hearing that members of the public and peers had perished made it harder for them, even though I was yet to be deployed to Gippsland. Responding to local fires and emergencies gave them a heightened state of concern for my welfare.
Seeing the devastation of these major fires and the impact to the communities is sad, especially the impact to our already suffering farmers being further hit. Seeing the funerals of firefighters and the children and families left behind is a “reality hit”.
Being in Victoria’s CFA is a year-round commitment, not just summer. People think that we dust off our overalls at summer time and just fight bushfires.
CFA Volunteers provide a professional, year-round fire and emergency service to the Victorian community. Fire and Emergencies include house and structural fires, hazardous materials incidents, and motor vehicle accidents rescues, among other things.
And yes, I will be back. Even after 40 plus years of service, it's hard to keep off the trucks.
Sandy De Luca
It never ceases to amaze what some of our colleagues get up to during their breaks
As a frequent visitor to the National Parks of New South Wales and Victoria, Sandy was, like the rest of us, horrified by the fire activity which began sometime in September on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.
Inspired by an idea he saw somewhere, Sandy set about using his home garage to put together a water supply device for our struggling wildlife. Working on the advice of WIRES, Sandy and his 4WD club friends have taken their gravity-fed watering devices into the forests and national parks and placed them at various strategic points they feel will be easiest found.
Sandy built over 10 devices during the Christmas break. Using 4WD club funds, the production line continues to churn out more efficient and cost effective devices.
Sandy De Luca
Channel Account Manager