Joining the Rural Fire Service is the most demanding of jobs. Battling blazes in all in a day’s work for these brave members of the community, who are tasked with being at the frontline of Australia’s bushfires. North Shore Mum Linda English explains why she’s made the commitment to RFS.
20 years ago, NSW was in a bushfire emergency. The 1994 January bushfires burned for 21 days straight, burned 800,000ha, 206 homes were completely destroyed, two firefighters and one civilian lost their lives. It was the biggest fire on record.
Since then, we have had the fires of 2001/2002, a smaller fire at Mount Kuring-gai in 2007 and more recently the October 2013 fires, as well as Melbourne and Tasmania’s recent blazes. The lesson? Bushfires can strike anywhere, at any time. The Rural Fire Service tells people to prepare themselves for the fire season, but what does that really mean? This is my story…
I grew up in Dee Why on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. When the 1994 fires hit, I had completed my first year at high school. I wasn’t afraid of much, but when the fires burned the side of a building at my school (Mater Maria College, Warriewood), I was scared. I had never seen bushfires before and didn’t really know much about them. I remember watching the news and seeing people standing on their roofs in singlets and shorts with garden hose in hand trying desperately to save their house. There were people who complained that the fire brigade did not save their house or simply never arrived, and as always those brave men and women who risked their lives fighting these fires. I was grateful I only lived two blocks from the beach and my house was safe.
Fast forward to 1998, I had just finished my HSC and met my now husband Stewart. He grew up in Hornsby Heights and was a second generation volunteer fire fighter. We married the following year. When we realised that home ownership was out of our reach on the northern beaches, we decided to call the bushland shire home. I had never lived in a bushland area and was concerned about fires. Stewart told me that I had nothing to worry about and that I should join the bushfire brigade! So in January 2000, I joined the Hornsby Heights Bushfire Brigade. It was scary at first, but once I started my training my fears about living near the bush started to subside. My training taught me all I know about fire, how it starts, what makes it go, why we do strategic burns and more importantly how fire behaves and how to fight them.
The 2001 fires were my first big fires. I saw property being lost, wildlife burnt, the destruction of fire to the bush but, I also saw what a well prepared house looks like and why it survived to tell the tale when others didn’t. Since then I have been to many fires, whilst there is still property loss home owners are now more prepared compared to twenty years ago.
So what did I learn…?
- To keep your gutters free from leaves.
- To keep your gardens tidy by keeping the grass short, raking up the leaves and not having bush all the way to the back door.
- To move wood piles and other combustible materials stored away from the house.
- If you have a portable pump, know how to use it.
- Have a plan, and make sure your family/friends know your plan.
- Have a box ready that has important documents and a change of clothes, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- And most importantly, do all this before the fire season begins.
Before kids, my plan was to stay and defend our home. However, we have now made the decision that it’s best for us to leave. And leave early.
What is your plan for safety in the event of a fire?