We don’t need to tell you of the devastation of the latest bushfire season, as the affects and conditions continue. What we do need to remind you though, is the importance and significance of our firefighters. Across the country, we have herds of heroes putting their lives on the line like never before, both as volunteers and fulltime fire servicemen and women. So with that, it’s time we meet some of our local heroes from the Queensland Fire And Emergency Services.
Meet Bonnie Deaves. Bonnie has been a rural firefighter volunteer based at Hazeldean (near Somerset Dam) for over two years, following the path of both her uncle and father. Seeing the struggles they faced with finding active volunteer members, Bonnie put her hand up. This fire season, the Hazeldean Rural Fire Brigade faced a number of heated situations, in particular the Monsildale and Jimna bushfires which have been the largest in the area. “They burnt for several weeks, destroying tens of thousands of acres; extreme heat and high winds combined with prolonged drought played into the mix,” Bonnie says. It was these fires that Bonnie also says has been the most difficult situation she has faced as a firefighter. “During the Jimna fires our crew was situated down the Louisvale end with a group of landowners and their families. Being a small community, we all knew each other. We had been working together all day fighting this fire and trying to hold it then in a blink of an eye, the wind changed direction and the fire came racing up the hill at us. I had never seen flames spiral like tornados like this – it was like the devil racing at us.” Bonnie says.
It was here when Bonnie’s life as a mother crept into her conscience. ‘’The smoke was so thick we couldn't see each other. We literally only had seconds to wet down around us before the fire burnt up to us. I could hear the landowners children yelling out from their vehicle for their mother; as a mother myself this was a chilling feeling. Before we knew the fire had jumped over the top of us and had got away. I think in those minutes after we were all in shock, just knowing how close it come to a far worse outcome and how truly lucky we were. I hope it’s a long time before I ever have to experience something like that again.”
Joining Bonnie on the ground was fellow volunteer and First Officer of Hazeldean Rural Fire Brigade, Rodney Kunde. With almost 43 years in the service, he signed up as soon as he was old enough, paying $1 to become a member. Running his own land with beef cattle, Rodney’s time is taken up on his own property, with spare time travelling with his wife. However, his role as First Officer has been his toughest job to date. “Having to deal with landowners who don’t like the rules that have to be followed,” explains Rodney. Agreeing with Bonnie, Rodney says this season has been a busy one for the Hazeldean crew, noting the Jimna and Monsildale fires as the most significant.
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Rodney says the service is a great career path. His advice? “Listen to the fire fighters who have had many years on the fire ground. One thing I tell our new members is you don’t have to be on the front line to learn, stand back when you can and watch the fire as you will learn a lot by doing that because every fire is different.”
Closer to home, meet Tom Hulbert, a new recruit volunteer based at Brookfield Rural Fire Brigade, balancing this with fulltime study and job as an electrical designer. This season, Tom has been nothing short of busy including two NSW deployments. Amongst these, Tom has been on the frontline at Gatton, Somerset, Kilcoy, Moreton Island, Jimna and Narangba, just to name a few. “All the incidents have been quite different to each other; the only constant has been the difficult terrain and extremely limited water,” Tom says. “Seeing lots of different scenarios definitely helps. Whenever you’re presented with a new challenge, you can apply knowledge you’ve learnt from previous incidents. We’re constantly learning and teaching,” Tom continues, also noting the challenges of radio range connectivity and overnight blazes.
As a new recruit Tom says the most unexpected part of the job has been where it’s lead him, “I’ve been tasked all over QLD and NSW, met people from all walks of life and seen parts of the country most people don’t get to see,” Tom says. “My only piece of advice is that you only get out what you put in. Cliché but it’s true. If you put the time and effort into the brigade and the service, people will do the same for you. Be it through training, deployments or any other aspect,” Tom says.
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From the country to the city, meet Tim Collingwood, a Senior Firefighter based at Roma Street Fire Station. While Tim’s a fulltime firefighter and has been for over 11 years, he also plays an integral role as a rural volunteer based at Clear Mountain (almost 20 years) and Air Observer with the State Air Operations Unit based out of either Toowoomba or Bundaberg during the bushfire season for eight years. “As an Air Observer (AOB) I am generally teamed up with an Air Attack Supervisor (AAS) and a pilot in a helicopter or small plane. While the AAS is conducting their primary role of coordinating the water bombing aircraft, as an AOB I will be producing an electronic map that will show things like the current fire location and direction of travel, the burnt area and threatened assets,” Tim says.
More recently, Tim has been on the ground facing situations closer to home as we’ve seem one of the worst fire seasons to face the country. “This has been the longest and busiest fire season I have been involved in. I have been to nearly all the major fires we have had in the last five months starting at the fires in Stanthorpe back in September. The most challenging period was in November when we had the declared State of Emergency,” Tim says. When it comes to balancing his rural and permanent roles as a firefighter, Tim says we’re lucky that the dynamics between the two forces compliment each other which we have certainly seen across Australia in recent months.
Donate to the Rural Fire Brigade, here.
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Quickfire with the firies:
Describe your ideal Sunday afternoon:
Spending time with family and friends, eating good food and lots of laughs.
People wouldn’t guess that:
I’m a huge fan of all the “Real Housewives” TV shows.
How do you unwind?
I love going to my local gym. It’s my ‘me’ time.
A soft drink with the water you drink on the fire ground keeps you going
I have been working as a unit support officer for the last 32 years in QLD Education Department.
A water tanker for our Stanley River Group
I sail yachts and play bagpipes! I placed 4th at the pipe band world championships in 2019
Great Northern or Bundy and Coke
At a party, where would we find you?
Probably hosting… I love to make sure everyone’s having a good time.
Who do you barrack for?
Brisbane Lions, AFL
All-time favourite song?
London Calling by The Clash
Fondest memory of your service:
The comradery with the 31 other guys I came through with
Thank you to all our firefighters for your constant efforts, time and compromises. A special thanks to Bonnie, Rodney, Tom and Tim for your time.
Imagery: QFES Facebook