While the smoke, the heat and the scale of the still-burning Gospers Mountain fire in NSW will never be forgotten, they actually weren’t what struck the Country Fire Authority’s Toora Brigade volunteer firefighter Tim Wright the most.
He is back at home in Mount Best after five days away in November as a member of a 150-strong CFA contingent, one of many continuing to support the NSW Rural Fire Service (RAS) battle the Lithgow and Hawkesbury districts’ largest blaze on record.
“It was the impression of being involved in something really big, with so many people contributing towards a common goal, as well as the sheer logistics and the amount of organisation required that will stay with me,” Tim said.
“While there were some gremlins in the system, like the fact that the NSW and Victorian radio systems didn’t always quite mesh, the way that nearly everything else ran so smoothly was remarkable,” he said, referring to the housing, feeding and deploying of literally thousands of firefighting and support crew.
“We’d come back to base on the fire trucks after a 12- or 14-hour shift, and the DMOs (District Mechanical Officers) would be there to service and repair them overnight so they were ready to go again first thing the next day,” Tim said.
“The other thing that hit me was how appreciative people were of the interstate volunteers being there to assist the RAS.
“Each night when we came back to the staging area, one particular family, a woman and her kids, came out on to their front lawn and waved and gave us a thumbs-up,” he said.
“Their acknowledgement was great, but really, all of us were pleased just to be able to help.”
Tim travelled to NSW with other CFA South Gippsland Group brigade members, starting his journey on a bus “that went from here via Meeniyan and Warragul to Tullamarine airport, picking up a full load of people along the way.
“We met up with two other bus-loads of CFA members from all over Victoria and we were flown to Sydney on a RAAF plane before going on to the Richmond RAAF base where we were put up in dormitories,” he said.
“The RAS staging area was at a school 20 minutes away by bus and our contingent’s 25 or so fire trucks and support vehicles and their crews, food preparation trailers and DMOs would assemble there before our deployment each day.
“After breakfast and a briefing session, we set off in strike teams, each consisting of five tankers and a control vehicle to our allotted destination, which for us was below Gospers Ridge near the Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains,” Tim said.
“We needed particulate masks and goggles because it was always smoky, sometimes a lot and at other times not so much.
“The first couple of days we were down in a valley doing asset protection, basically looking after properties and helping the people who hadn’t evacuated to clear up leaves and undergrowth, and to protect against embers.
“We could see the fires on the top of the ridges, and down where we were it felt still, and very eerie, with a strange smokiness and a strange light.
“On our third and final day all of the trucks went out together to work on back burning, with each one stationed about 100 metres apart along a road to burn the understorey and reduce the fuel load,” he said.
“I don’t know how many kilometres we did that day, but I know it was a lot!”
New members wanted by Toora CFA
The Toora Urban Fire Brigade was formed by local people in the 1930s and is now one of the CFA’s Region Nine brigades.
New members are always wanted by the Toora CFA, and Tim joined about five years ago, when he and his wife Cathy came to live permanently on their place at Mount Best, bought some five years before.
“I had it in the back of my mind that I might do something in the community, and I was recruited by a friend into the Toora CFA, along with two others,” he said.
“We undertook the minimum skills training needed to allow us to get on the truck, which first came into being after the Linton fires in 1998, when it was worked out that the firefighters who died during that incident were inexperienced newcomers.
“The minimum skills training course extends over 10 to 12 weeks and includes theory and the practical side, like basic first aid, personal safety around a fireground, bushfire behaviour, operation of equipment like pumps, hoses and the tankers themselves, and basic radio communications,” Tim said.
“Since then I’ve also done further courses, in hazardous materials, advanced pump operations and equipment maintenance skills as well as coming along to the brigade’s weekly meetings and training sessions and turning out to incidents.
“The brigade has about 20 active members, and there’s always room for more,” he said.
“I like being part of the Toora CFA and since going to NSW last month I’ve learned how important and useful volunteers can be to the wider community.”
Join Toora CFA
Toora CFA Lieutenant Bob Morris said both men and women are equally encouraged to join the brigade.
“We meet at the Toora fire station in Gray Street every Thursday night between 7 pm and 9 pm and we invite anyone who is interested in finding out more about the CFA to pop in then,” he said.
“Prospective members must be 16 years of age or over, be of good character and happy to have a police check done and be ready to commit to attending regular training.
“You also have to be available to turn out when the fire alarm goes,” Bob said.
For more information about joining the Toora CFA Brigade contact Captain Mark Hurst or the duty officer on 5686 2743.