Fires on the NSW South Coast

For the last three days I have been working in the Emergency Management Centre in Nowra ( 2 hours south of Sydney) as a communications officer. I’ll be there for another three days. As a volunteer, I don’t expect or want to be paid. I volunteer for two reasons, to help others and help myself. Volunteering is one of the sure fire ways to boost your own mental health and wellbeing. I’m no hero or saint, I’m just practical!

The twelve hour shifts have me taking messages from 000 (Australia’s equivalent to 911) and delivering them to the operations officer who then decides which fire teams will be dispatched and what other resources will be required.

As well as 000 calls, we meticulously log the movements of the various appliances as they move from place to place.

The voice in the head set declares:

Fire Com Fire Com this is {insert unit name here}

Go ahead {Unit name}

We are proceeding from the X Station to the Y Staging Area at {location}

Received {Unit name} Fire Coms Clear at 16:08

The words are precise to ensure the meaning is clear. The word “proceeding” is important. Emergency vehicles “proceed” when they are just driving normally. They must get permission to “respond” under lights and sirens.

The transaction is then logged both in a written book and in a computer-based time log. The radio messages are recorded. The time log is then available to the State Operations team in close to real time, so they can oversee the various operations around the State. If we have not heard from someone for a while, we will do a “welfare check”.

The written log has numbered pages, each log book must be kept. This means that if there is an enquiry after the event, the log entries can be checked to help determine what happened and why. It’s a heavy responsibility.

We also answer really important questions for crews like where they can get lunch!

The two big rooms that house the EMC are awash with high-vis uniforms and colourful tabards. Tabards are like waistcoats with the role of the person in large letters emblazoned on the back and front. The Incident Controller, Operations Manager, Public Liaison Officer, Animal Welfare. Catering, of course. There is a tabard for every role. It makes it easy for anyone to know who is who because not everyone who is here is from the Rural Fire Service even if this is their “party”.

There are clusters of people from the Police, Fire and Rescue NSW, Rural Fire Service, Ambulance, Endeavour Energy workers ( to cut and restore the power to burnt power poles) National Parks and Wildlife, the Defence Force and more like me, in Orange from the State Emergency Service. We all work side by side to put the jigsaw together without losing any pieces.

For the past three days, the weather has been kind and the mood in the EMC was calm but wary. The relatively low temperatures and light winds have meant that crews have been able to do some back burning and to create containment lines. Holiday makers have been able to get home and the long lines of traffic seen yesterday have depleted, giving the police less grief. There has been a steady stream of lovely food brought in by towns’ people supporting our efforts.

But today is the day before D-day. Disaster day. The forecast is grim. 44C (111F) and low humidity. The light northerly winds of the morning will be whirled around by a strong southerly in the afternoon. It is likely to be another day like New Year’s Eve when more than 100 homes were destroyed, whole towns razed and people died.

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I hope the Bureau of Meteorology has it wrong. The fire crews and all the rest of us will be doing our best but there are only so many fire trucks and only so many people who can do the work. Please follow their instructions. Please don’t go through road blocks. Please don’t light fires. Please make your decision to stay or leave early and please take care, not risks.

A run in the Park.

The “Park Run” is a free event that happens in lots of different places world-wide on Saturday mornings. It’s a 5km timed run/walk organised by volunteers. There are three park runs near where I live in Wollongong, but strangely there wasn’t one in New York.

This weekend I am in Old Bar on the Mid North Coast of NSW, Australia for a 40th School Reunion. That in itself is a scary concept which I will write more about later for my regular Friday post.

In the meantime here is a little CHOOKUMENTARY about the Park Run in Taree. Today I ran the course in just over 27 minutes. The course is relatively flat and follows along a footpath on the foreshore of the Manning River.

Check out Park Run’s Website for more information. This link is for their Australian chapter but there are others in other countries. Park Run Australia

I am a volunteer.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I volunteered for the NSW SES (State Emergency Service[1]). I think the SES is pretty unique to Australia. It is a volunteer organisation that assists the community in times of storm, flood and tsunami.  If there’s a storm and a tree falls on your roof we will come and help you. We do temporary repairs and make things safe till you can get it repaired properly. I haven’t had to help out with any tsunamis yet but I have been out in plenty of storms! We also assist the police with searches.

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It’s a great organisation and I have learnt lots of new skills and made some great friends. It contributes to my wellbeing immensely. (Giving, Connecting and Learning)

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I can now tie knots like the alpine butterfly, double figure of eight, a fisherman’s knot and a bow line. Unfortunately, not with my eyes closed, but I am getting there. I can rig a height safety system so I can get up on roof safely to fix it and I am a qualified first-aider. I know the alphabet and can use a romeo-alpha-delta-indigo-oscar, as well as navigate with just a map and a compass. I can drive a light-storm truck and fix broken windows with a sheet of plywood and a nail gun. My future goals are to learn to use a chainsaw safely so I can help cut down fallen trees and do the 4WD course so I can drive in rugged terrain.

We have a weekly training night as well as social events. The requests for assistance are obviously dependent on the weather. There are units scattered throughout NSW and in other States in Australia. I would recommend joining if you are the sort of person who likes being outdoors, wants to make a meaningful contribution and are willing to get wet! It’s funny but we never seem to get called out when it’s sunny[2].

There are some special groups that do vertical rescue (i.e. rescue people who have fallen down cliffs or into ravines etc) and a flood rescue team who pluck people out of flood water risking their own lives to help others. Many people are very silly when there is a flood and think their car is like the one in a James Bond movie and can turn into a submarine! Your car will start floating in relatively shallow water, so NEVER EVER drive through flood water! The other thing is that the road could be washed away and you won’t know till it’s too late and your family is identifying your body (Yes! It happens!) In some areas, the SES also helps out with road crashes.

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This is part of a training exercise

Being an Old Chook, I am part of a general storm team.  Abseiling and strong swimming are not my forte.

Apart from all the serious stuff we get to do some seriously fun stuff! Like march in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to celebrate the diversity in the ranks of the SES and of those we assist. I have created a separate blog post just for those images which will be published soon!

These photos are from the SES Facebook page and were not taken by me.

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Paddy the Platypus – our mascot.

 

 

[1] https://www.ses.nsw.gov.au/

[2] except for searches