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AINDT Members helping East Gippsland Firefighting Efforts

Category: AINDT News

Many AINDT members are also members and volunteers of other community groups. AINDT would like to highlight some of the contributions our members make to their community. Below is an article by Victorian Branch President, Glen Haberl, about his experience as a CFA volunteer recently deployed to Mallacoota in Victoria’s far East.

AINDT wishes to thank all our members who have been part of the effort this summer to help combat one of the countries worst fire seasons in many years. We also send our thanks to everyone around Australia who have risked their personal safety during this very hard time for so many people around the country. 

I have been a CFA volunteer for several years now. I put my hand up to be deployed on a 4-day strike team (25 to 30 fire fighters and 5 fire trucks). We were deployed to Mallacoota on Saturday 4th January. My crew of 5 included members from District 13 (Dandenong ranges) from Selby (my brigade), Upwey and Olinda.

Our trip started with a bus ride to Swan Reach where a local football oval was converted into a temporary tent camp to accommodate several hundred CFA, SES and other service personnel. Due to the on going fire activity, we could not reach our destination since roads were blocked and aircraft were grounded.

We stayed the night and ended up on a bus back to the Sale RAF base where our strike team was split up and put on either RAF Chinook helicopters or C27 Spartan planes for a 40 min flight into Mallacoota. This was not without risk since due to smoke we had to fly below radar detection of other aircraft. Visibility was poor for the pilots and it was an unknown if we could even land due to smoke. We landed at about 6pm.

Our accommodation was a donated private holiday house with no power or water. Following breakfast at the local pub (which had turned into the meal provider for emergency services), we jumped into our trucks and patrolled the town. We were deployed to “black out” several locations. This is the process where we extinguish smouldering stumps and trees at the edge of the fire that pose threat should the conditions change. By mid-day, it started to rain.

The main township of Mallacoota was not touched by fire, but many surrounding properties on the edge of town were destroyed. We were not permitted to enter properties due to possible asbestos contamination. The township was cut off by road. Trees still smouldering could fall without notice. This is one of the largest threats to fire fighters during blacking out operations. Due to the isolation, the army and navy were deployed to bring in supplies and take out civilians. The CFA was tasked with unloading some supplies from the airport and the jetty.

Day 3 ended with a meal and accommodation in a cabin at one of the many caravan parks. The following day we were deployed to a small township of Gipsy Point for further blacking out operations. With short notice we were told the only way out of the township for the next few days was on board the naval ship HMAS Choules. We made our way down to the jetty where we boarded a small boat that carried about 20 people. This took off over the shallow sand bar and into the rear of the ship. By this time, it was about 6pm. We were shown our rooms (about 30 to a room, 3 bunk beds high and shared amongst civilians and emergency workers). The ship left at about 10pm, passed the Esso platforms at about 3am (my old work place!) and arrived at Western Port after a 20-hour journey at 6pm. Day 5 ended for me at about midnight safely back at home.

   

Left: C27 Spartan planes transport Emergency Services into Mallacoota.

Right: Surveying the fire damage.

  

Left: Glen blacking out several locations to ensure smouldering stumps and trees remain safe.

Right: Strike teams returning from service.