|Articles on this page with permission from GREG WANE, are taken from the Barwon Heads,Ocean Grove, and Wallington news .||Issn 13290371|
Published by Whistler Publishing
PO. Box 358, Ocean Grove
Editor Greg Wayne
Local firemen answer the call to New South Wales
By Barbara Godlewski
Dale Berryman, Captain of the Barwon Heads Fire Brigade was given two hours warning on Boxing Day to provide firefighters for the New South Wales fire crisis.
Third Lieutenant, Dirk Warren and Secretary Kelvin White from Barwon Heads were flown to Sydney on Boxing Day with Captain Dale Berryman and Matthew Mee and Glenn Ashford (Bluey) following on New Year's Eve.
Accommodation and air flights were arranged through the Country Fire Authority and paid for by the New South Wales Government.
The five fire fighters left behind their families during the festive season and spent three nights in humid bushland helping strangers protect their homes from the fires.
Their shift began at 6.00pm and ended at 8.30am the following morning when they returned to their motel rooms. Following a few hours sleep, and a briefing by the incoming crew, they were back out for another long night.
"There was no hesitation from the dedicated crew that I took up. We were thereto do a job for the community and that's what we did," Dale said.
Dale's team was one of five Victorian tankers called a strike team. Each tanker has a crew of five. The leading vehicle has a strike team leader who controls all five vehicles. New team leaders and crew were replaced every four days.
"We work together as a really big team but we are a small part of the whole operation," said Dirk, a CFA member for six years.
Dirk said volunteer fire fighters often take holiday leave or days off without pay to fight fires. Many people don't realise that volunteers give up their own time and work irregular hours. Barwon Heads Fire Brigade volunteers come from a wide cross section of the community.
Kelvin White said that in a recent press release, the New South Wales State Government is requesting that no volunteer fire fighters should he financially disadvantaged while serving the community within a state of emergency.
The difference between many community services and fire fighters is that other volunteer services have time to consider and plan their actions.
"If our emergency pagers went now, we're expected to be out the door in six minutes. It's the same for all members of the CFA, no matter what brigade they're with," Dale said.
Dale has been a member of the Barwon Heads Volunteer Fire Service for 25 years. He admits that the community service, which fire fighters provide, takes them away from their families.
"I may get home at two or three in the morning but I still have to go to work the next day. Your family, business or employer suffers, but that's all part of it.
The community is helping out my kids and therefore I'm putting something back into it," he said. All communities pull together during times of crisis and in New South Wales the support was evident.
Dirk said that about 30 firefighters walked into a service station in Sydney. The attendant told them to help themselves to tea, coffee and all the soft drinks. While on overnight protection duty, the volunteers were given chocolate by the local children and cups of tea or soup.
"Even after these people have lost everything over Christmas, they are only too happy to help you out. What is it tons to give up three days to go up there and help them out?" Dirk said.
The ferocity of the fires ensured that Victorian firefighters carried a heavier workload than ever before.
Kelvin, a CFA volunteer for 30 years, said that the people of New South Wales had been fighting these fires for three weeks prior to Christmas Day and it has been dubbed one of the worst fires in the history of Australia.
"The support that was given to us by the New South Wales people on the fire ground was magnificent and the support our families, employers and troops at home gave us has been astronomical"' Kelvin said.
Although it has been alleged that arsonists lit more than 80 percent of the fires in New South Wales, many people can prepare their house to reduce the risk of damage. More education is needed in fire prevention.
"When you talk to the owners about how they feel about the fire, they casually say that it's the third or fourth fire they've had." Dirk said.
Dale is amazed when people reveal that if they pay their insurance they should be able to choose to live in a high fire danger environment. "Their premiums should be a lot higher than other people that don't have a house surrounded by trees," he said.
The Barwon Heads Fire Brigade is planning to add an extension to the back of the Sheepwash Road station. During the past ten years, half the amount required has been raised. The other half must come from various sources such as donations from service clubs, Government grants, cake stalls and sausage sizzles.
"There are many other fire brigades out in the bush that will take precedence over our building extension, so we don't ask the CFA to put us on their waiting list." Dale said.
The Barwon Heads Fire Brigade has 21 members who all donate an equal amount of time to the organisation. However the brigade is currently in need of more volunteers, male or female over the age of 16. Training in basic fire-ground practices, pump operation, fire safety awareness and fire equipment maintenance is provided. Further training is available for endorsed truck licences, first aid, leadership and communications skills.
"We get called out to help the Ocean Grove Fire Brigade and they automatically reciprocate. With the support we give each other, both brigades always have additional back up.' Dale said.
As well as fires, fire fighters are also asked to attend car accidents to assist other emergency services.
Group activities, excursions, sport and fitness development, fundraising, fire prevention training together with learning the benefits of teamwork are all accessible to a volunteer fire fighter.
Together with schools, the CFA helps children learn about fire safety in the home and how to survive bushfires. Local brigades reach many children each year.
"The kids are good value. I go out to the kindergartens and primary schools." Kelvin said. Children aged 11 to 16 years can join the Fire brigade's junior program. where they learn new skills and make new friends.
The Barwon Heads Fire Brigade meets on two Tuesday evenings each month and each Sunday morning from 9.30am. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer,
please contact the station on Sunday mornings
on 5254 2318 or call
Captain Dale Berryman
on 5234 2117 any evening after 7.30pm.