Local heroes unite for NSW

Holly ThompsonSound Telegraph
Timothy Wilson was one of several firefighters from the region who attended the NSW fires.
Camera IconTimothy Wilson was one of several firefighters from the region who attended the NSW fires. Credit: Timothy Wilson

Volunteer and career firefighters based in and around Rockingham are some of the thousands who have risked their lives to help fight deadly blazes ravaging New South Wales.

Firefighters from Rockingham, Kwinana and Baldivis Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Kwinana South and Mandogalup Bush Fire Brigade and Karnup Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services travelled interstate to help save lives — both human and animal — and property.

NSW fires attended to by Rockingham firefighters.
Camera IconNSW fires attended to by Rockingham firefighters. Credit: Rodeny De San Miguel

Rockingham Second Volunteer Fire and Rescue member Samuel Oliver said he first went over at the start of November and then again in the middle of this month and described his first deployment as “chaotic”.

“The NSW Rural Fire Service has been stripped so thin that trying to get information out of them can take a few days,” he said.

To sign up to help, Oliver said a minimum of four years’ experience was required.

“They rang the stations the first time anyone went across and then after that they sent through a circular with an availability form,” he said.

NSW fires attended to by Rockingham firefighters.
Camera IconNSW fires attended to by Rockingham firefighters. Credit: Pictures: Timothy Wilson, Timothy Wilson

“Once we had checked those boxes we would receive a phone call three days prior to flying out and they would ask us for our availability again, if we knew what we were going in to, knew what was expected of us and our fitness levels.”

Mr Oliver said after going through a process to ensure he had the right level of experience and fitness, he was deployed to Armidale in the Northern Tablelands and then to Casino, operating out of Tenterfield.

He said the whole experience had been an eye-opener after dealing with foreign terrain which caused the fire that behaved differently from those in WA.

“There is a lot more shifts in wind and terrain can accelerate or slow down the fires so I had to get used to reading the patterns a bit quicker,” he said.

“I was deployed for a week to the Northcliffe fires in 2015 and the area there has a similar terrain, so I had some idea of what to expect,” he said.

The fires have travelled a long way due to weather conditions and Mr Oliver said they could jump across the border into Queensland.

Members of Rockingham, Kwinana and Baldivis Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Kwinana South and Mandogalup Bushfire Brigade stand together after returning from over east.
Camera IconMembers of Rockingham, Kwinana and Baldivis Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Kwinana South and Mandogalup Bushfire Brigade stand together after returning from over east. Credit: Holly Thompson

It is likely many more fireys from the area and across the State will also head over throughout the holiday season, after NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a week-long state of emergency and Sydney’s temperature continues to climb.

“I am ready to go back again,” Mr Oliver said. “As soon as the call goes out I will be going back.”

“It is humbling to see what can happen and how worn our firefighters can get but still keep going. I spoke to one firefighter who had been on the ground for six weeks straight, no income and no contact with his family during that time.”

Another volunteer, Tania Hendry, said she was only now starting to process what she had seen.

NSW fires attended to by Rockingham firefighters.
Camera IconNSW fires attended to by Rockingham firefighters. Credit: Timothy Wilson

“You don’t really get the scale of everything from here and the fatigue, not only in the firefighters, but in the people,” she said. “There are farmers and rural townsfolk who have lived on that land for years and now have nothing, but they still were helping us out.

“Local motels were doing our washing and cafes were open to make sure we got an early-morning coffee. It was hard to process the devastation and the help we received until I got back home.”

Firefighters have been busy in WA as well and have over the past few weeks travelled long distances north of Perth, with some heading off straight after coming back from NSW.

Picture: Timothy Wilson
Camera IconPicture: Timothy Wilson

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