RFS & RRT work together, fighting fires near Cowra
Conditions ripe for fire
January 2013 saw the state of NSW on high alert with a total fire ban. Conditions in western NSW were volatile – dusty, dry and hot, with temperatures between 35-45°C. Bushfires were flaring throughout the region when the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church Rapid Relief Team in Cowra was asked if they would help supply food and water for volunteer fire-fighters.
An Often Overlooked Need: Chilled Water
The Waugoola Rural Fire Service Captain told the Plymouth Brethren a serious issue they faced was a lack of equipment to keep the fire-fighters’ water chilled in the intense heat. Only last week, the Captain said, two volunteers had fallen ill after drinking bottled water previously exposed to the heat of the flames. For the RFS to keep going, they needed water, chilled.
Not only that, the Brethren were told the situation was getting grimmer; the RFS was deployed to 4 separate zones in the region, in close proximity to bushfires. A fire menacing Boorowa was intensifying. Only 5 kilometres away, it was moving fast towards the township.
The PBC RRT snap to action
On Friday 18th, the Plymouth Brethren Rapid Relief Team immediately purchased 2 portable fridge/freezers for the RFS fire-engines. They delivered these, along with cartons of bottled water, to the base at Cowra airport. These small actions alleviated the pressing supply issues.
But the fires weren’t out, by any stretch…
Less than a week later, a fire – Decca Fire as it became known – ignited by lightning, was out-of-control near Wyangala Dam. It was in an inaccessible area and before long had burnt nearly 3000 hectares. Emergency services called in 9 planes to dump foam onto the blaze.
Back at the airport in Cowra planes landed continually in a whirlwind of dust and grit. With the plane still running, RFS volunteers would frantically refuel and restock it with foam. Minutes later the next plane would land and the RFS would start the process all over again.
In an emergency, small complications matter.
At the RFS base there was a problem – vehicles were constantly flattening an essential hose running through the area. RRT members constructed a ramp for the vehicles, and quickly recovered full use of the hose. As well as that, a water truck with a tank was made available as backup if needed.
The RFS needed food
Before long, the Plymouth Brethren RRT discovered that the RFS had next to no supplies, and they set about to amend the situation.
With no on-site facilities, food preparation had to be carried out elsewhere. There was barely time for a pause, so the food would have to be quick for the RFS to eat.
“Provide for 20-30 RFS members”
Wednesday evening 23rd January, the call came. The brief was short; provide for 20-30 RFS members per meal, until further notice. RRT members set to work that night: organizing meals, the purchase of supplies and donations from locals.
For three days, the RRT arrived at the airport countless times with meals prepared for serving. Always greeted warmly by the exhausted RFS members, the RRT could sense the morale of the volunteers lifting.
“The food was excellent and we want to thank you very much!” – Rural Fire Service Volunteer
The morale lifting was reflected when the RRT received such positive encouragement from the people they served. Hearing “We’ve never had support like this that we can remember” encouraged the RRT to keep going. Perhaps the most unexpected comment, though, was “we worked a longer shift because we knew the RRT were coming back and the food was so good”!