Firefighters account of NSW bushfires

There had been a lot of build up to Thursday last week, we had our crews on standby ready to assist where needed, I was at work that day. I watched as the pager messages came out and the news websites went wild with reports of a fire in the Blue Mountains and Bargo areas. My brigade was sent down to Bargo to assist.

I put my hand up for the night shift, I left work after 4pm and went straight to station and got my kit ready and waited to hear about the night shift. We were told that we would be bussed to the Bargo fire at 2100 that night. We got our gear ready, jumped on the coach (there were two coaches, one for the Blue Mountains, one for Bargo) and met our day crews at the Picton road exit, swapped our gear to the fire truck. Our OIC (Officer in Charge) spoke to the strike team leader and came quickly back to the truck to inform us we had been redirected to Springwood, so we headed up there.

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We got there around midnight, there where fire trucks everywhere and we went to find our staging area. We pulled over to look at the map and as we did a man came running up to tell us his neighbours front yard was on fire and he could not put it out – so we jumped off the truck and ran our hoses out to knock down the small flames and douse the area in water to prevent it happening again. The family had left earlier in the day so they were very lucky their neighbour was at hand to help.

While this was happening our OIC found the staging area on a map and once packed up we headed up to Winmalee high school, where we undertook back burning to protect the school and houses nearby. We left around 5am and went to Winmalee for a quick bacon and egg roll (thanks Rapid Relief Team) and then headed to Hornsby Fire Control to swap out with the relief crew who then headed straight up to Wyong. On the way out of the mountains we passed some of the houses that had burnt down, it was a very sad sight to see and my heart goes out to people who have lost their homes.

I got home around 8:30 am, logged onto the work PC, actioned urgent emails and then went to bed until 11:30am. I woke up and went into work for the rest of the day.

By Sunday I had recovered and went out again, we met at Fire Control at 5:30am for a 6am departure this time to Bargo where we made sure a back burn had been cleaned up safely and had no chance of re-ignition, we did this with hand tools to save driving out of the tight trail to the bulk water truck. The tools we used include a rack hoe, fire fighting axe and of course the hoses, by conserving our water we managed to only need two fill ups for the day which was a good outcome. We had some time out for lunch, which also involved brushing the huntsman’s away from our sandwich boxes on the ground!

Huntsmen on firies goggles. Photo: James Andrew


After lunch we were tasked to a new section of the back burn, behind a chicken farm – which had a unique smell. We did much the same here, once all was completely blacked out (where the burnt ground has no hot spot left) we packed up and went to Yerrinbool RFS station for some dinner and then drove back to Warringah district to pack up and go home. We got back to station around 8:30pm, washed the trucks and went home.

Monday was a repeat of Sunday, a 5:30am start to head down Bargo to again meet at Yerrinbool RFS station for instructions. We headed out to a remote area behind Bargo where the fire had torn through. Our task was to put out the hot spots at the top of the gully and at the creek line, I have no idea how steep the hill was but it was the steepest hill I have ever walked/slid down. We had two hose lines out, one with 6 people or so on it and ours with 4 of us on it. As we made our way down the steep goat-track like hill we blacked out any hot spots, once at the bottom we blacked out the large tree that was smoking and contained a small flare up that threatened to cross the river.

Photo: James Andrew


A crew came down the hill around 3pm with some snack packs for us (A snack pack usually contains a muesli bar, some lollies, a juice popper and a small fruit box) we all had something to eat and a rest then started to make our way back up the hill. At this point a fresh crew had come in to assist bring our hoses out, it felt like a miracle they had turned up as we were all exhausted. We finally got back to our truck, got some cool water and sandwiches into us and relaxed in the aircon of the truck for half an hour. A short time later we were released and went to Bargo oval to await the bus ride home.

This rates as one of the hardest days I have experienced in my 11 years in the RFS. While waiting for the bus a man with a camera came up to me and shook my hand and said “thank you” a small gesture but it makes all the work and exhaustion worth-while. I have seen so many people driving with thumbs up or beeping to get our attention as we drive back in our trucks, the public thanks and support is what drives most of us to keep going when so exhausted. The bus finally came and we headed back to station, arriving around 8:45pm.

Photo: James Andrew


It is now the following Thursday and I am leaving work in 45 minutes to go to my fire station, get on a bus or a truck and head out to do another night shift on the fire line. I have no idea which fire we will be tasked to, but I am sure it will be a long night and we will hopefully make an impact on these fires. I am still tired from being out on Monday and will be very tired tomorrow, we are all hoping for some decent rain very soon to help put out these fires and give everyone a break.

JAMES ANDREW

NSW Volunteer Firefighter

James Andrew on duty.


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3 Comments

  1. Jo09:29pm Thursday 24th October 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    To James Andrew and all of the Firefighters As a mother and father of four from Springwood who live close to the Faulconbridge fires, thankyou to each and every firefighter . On Thursday afternoon last week we heard the first sirens wailing and we watched as plumes of thick, black smoke rose across our beautiful neighbourhood. Then came the fear for the school children and others throughout the effected areas as schools caught fire and homes (some belonging to our friends) burnt. That was a week ago. Since then we have carried mattresses, blankets, clothes and panadol to our neighbours in the middle of the night, whose families lost everything. We have driven past shells of houses and skeletal, charred landscapes whilst singing 'you are my sunshine' so as our 3 year old wouldn't cry again. We have attended the evacuation centre with boxes of toothpaste and deodorant and held a man's arm, after his home had just burnt down. We have set up sprinkler systems on our roof and stood with neighbours out on the street, watching and waiting. We have grabbed our 'important documents' folder, photos and the laptop as we've hurried the kids to the car for three evacuations. We are use to the constant drone of helicopters and watching them cross back and forth with their precious cargo of water, then the rise of white smoke - a peace token to the mighty red. We are sad for those who have to carry the burden of loss, but here in the mountains, we are strong, we will hold each other up. And to you, to each of you who gives so much of yourself for us, we, as a couple, a family, a street, and a neighbourhood- we are so very grateful.

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  2. KB06:06pm Thursday 24th October 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Our thoughts and ptayers are with the families who have lost homes and to the wonderful firees who do such a wonderful job endangering their own lives to protect the homes of families. The firees were in our street the other day.

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  3. Anne06:02pm Thursday 24th October 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Thank you so much, I grew u around Thirlmere so know the area quite well andhave a lot of relatives in the area. Words cannot express the thanks I feel.

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