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Members do their bit at Molesworth

BEING a union member means looking out for others and doing your bit. It means working together for a cause, side by side.

These union values also extend well beyond the workplace. We caught up with some of our own CPSU heroes working on the Molesworth Fire in Southern Tasmania on Tuesday last week (Feb 12). Not only were many working on the fire on behalf of their agency, many also come from a background of volunteer fire fighting.

Just looking around Molesworth Control – there are people from Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania Fire Service and Forestry Tasmania crews. There’s probably well over 50 vehicles parked at the station including logoed utes and fire trucks.

Helicopters land and take off. Crews gather in clumps – some take the chance to grab some dinner before splitting off into briefings. Their yellow gear is blackened from a day on the fire.

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Action station: Molesworth Control.

CPSU LEAD Organiser Angela Ames has volunteered for the Molesworth Fire Brigade since the age of 15, and was recently honoured with a National Service Medal. This fire’s seen her brigade work on its home turf, where they’ve all trained for so long.

On Wednesday last week she left work early – called on to help at the Molesworth fire.

The crews were out already by the time I got up there, so I was a lackey for any jobs that needed doing. I got thrown in a vehicle with half a dozen boxes of water to run out the crews.

On the Thursday it was about full-on asset protection – basically just leaping from house to house, wherever the fire front was.

At one particular house – we came up the road – there were flames over the truck. The fire was already burning under the fence, which was a table-width away from the house. We managed to save the house while the helicopters were water bombing the next two houses up the road.

On a job such as this one Ange said time goes fast –with not much time to think and actions almost automatic.

You’re doing a few things at once. First, asking how we stay safe in this situation? Second, looking at what you need to do to protect whatever asset it is you’re trying to save. Our brigade trains once a week of an evening and once a month on a Sunday as well, so when you get into that position it’s almost instinctive.  Driving up to that particular house, the Crew Leader already had a plan, so by the time we are out of the truck, everyone already knows where they need to go and what hoses are needed.

Despite the long days, Ange said she felt wired after coming off the fire ground. Dinner with the crews is a chance to catch up on the day’s events and debrief.

You don’t realise the individual experiences of the crew until you get to the end of the day. The driver of the truck who was on the pump had a really different experience to the rest of us at the house we were protecting – he couldn’t see what was happening, with the smoke, and said he thought he was going to die.

The Friday was very different for Ange; steadier without the adrenaline surge of the day before. We weren’t on the active fire front, but we were on a section where the fire had backed up a hill against the wind and our role was to black out the edges of it, so there wasn’t a risk of it taking off. Anything that smoked – you dumped water on it. The day dragged.

Ange experienced a close call on Friday working on a steep gully. I walked up ahead of the truck to do a bit of an assessment. Walking back to the truck – I got half way back and I heard a tree creak; when I turned around it fell exactly where I’d been standing. We were really jumpy after that.

With her home under threat in the early days of the fire, and her experience on the ground protecting homes, the importance of making a property defendable really hit home to Ange. Not only are you defending your house by doing this, but you’re also making it safe for the fireys to defend.

"Mummy's truck": Ange with her son Henry.

“Mummy’s truck”: Angela Ames with her son Henry.

Ange’s husband CPSU Parks and Wildlife Services Member Matthew Ames was also working on the fire ground falling burning trees – a particularly dangerous job.

Today (Tuesday Feb 12) is the seventh day of the fire. For the Parks boys in particular, they can only do five days on a fire, and then take a compulsory day off; then if they do another five they take two compulsory days off.

He’d taken the Monday off after five days on the fire – and the Tuesday was his first shift back.

He praised the efforts of the others on the ground. The Forestry boys have been going out with the dozers. The fire crew guys have been doing all the back burning. The furthest north the volunteers have come from is Sassafras. So it’s been good for them to see another part of the state.

The guys I’ve been working with have been working with the machines, nowhere near the fire, they just working up in the tracks so we can get a good control line if they have to do a burn. It’s been managed really well. Mark Klop is our District Officer and he has not stopped.

A helicopter flies over the Molesworth Fire Station.

A helicopter flies over the Molesworth Fire Station.

Living in Molesworth, he said the sight and sound of helicopters landing, leaving and flying overhead had become the norm.

The choppers for the first five days were working around Molesworth, with some activity over on Ringwood Road at Lachlan. The pilots are mostly local, with one Canadian who does four weeks on and one week off. They’ve done an outstanding job – they have not stopped. They’re flying up to 12 hours a day.

It’ll be strange when it the helicopters leave and it goes all quiet.

Ange and Matthew’s son Henry’s been pretty excited about seeing the helicopters, which he calls “Harolds” after the Thomas the Tank helicopter. To Henry, a Molesworth Fire Brigade truck is “Mummy’s truck”.

Matthew’s also a volunteer with the Molesworth Brigade.

 

TALKING to Mount Field Parks and Wildlife Delegate Michael Hanson on Tuesday night – his skin is black from the fire, he’s tired, and he’s hungry.

Michael generously chats while he eats his well-earned dinner after his fifth day on the ground.

A weary Micheal Hanson after day five on the Molesworth fire.

A weary Micheal Hanson after day five on the Molesworth fire.

He’s been on remote work, which is extremely physical in the steep Derwent Valley terrain. Some of the work’s hose laying, running hose out of backpacks. The hose is wound is such a way it feeds out as you walk along to make sure the edge of the fire line is blackened.

On Tuesday Michael was working on Ringwood trail, which takes about 50 minutes to access, with highway driving, gravel roads, four-wheel driving, and then scrambling up hills and dozer trails – it’s pretty rough both on machinery and physically.

The second day was the toughest for Michael, working on a hose lay. Fighting fires downhill isn’t much fun – the smoke, the heat, everything comes back up at you, you have to duck and weave a bit, get you mask up and your goggles on. You have to be prepared to step sideways rather than outrun it.  It’s not the worst I’ve ever been in – that’s whole other story.

As well as fighting fires for Parks and Wildlife, Michael comes from a background of volunteer fire fighting. I was originally with New Norfolk Country Brigade, when they had a two-tiered fire system before it amalgamated in the early 90s. I’ve attended everything from HAZMAT callouts to bushfires – with another hat on. It gets confusing after a while. It’s terrible when you call FireComm and say “this is Parks 22- no it isn’t”!

Being from the Derwent Valley’s been handy on this fire, as he knows the terrain and roads well.

Days run into each other. You do have to pace yourself a bit – and drink and eat constantly. You get little packs of jelly beans and sweets like that. When you’re on the fire you have a bit of a diet change.

Michael’s also worked on the Lake Repulse and Forcett fires earlier in the year.

I spent a couple of nights at Lake Repulse, doing back burning. A lot of work’s patrolling – which is four-wheel driving with attitude – and you’ve got the fire on one side of you. The Repulse fire was running at the time – you stand on the hillside and you can see it run across a gully about 20 metres away.

I was down at the Forcett fire for 10 days – two shifts, which was walking through, checking the edges and making sure they’re all done. There were a couple of hotspots. But this fire – it’s putting a hotspot then putting out the next one within 20-30 metres.

Working in the deep Derwent Valley, Michael’s made some interesting finds while on the job. It’s always amazing what you discover up in the bush. We found some old trucks from 40s and 50s all lined up – the previous landowner had “stored them”. In another place there were hundreds and hundreds of cars.

Like any other part of life, Michael said it was important to be careful about how people treat each other when they’re out on a fire. There’s just a lot of banter. There’s a lot of stirring and what have you. But when it gets to bullying – that’s not on. There’s a line.

 

TALKING to Parks and Wildlife’s Mark Monks at the fire station, helicopters whirred overhead, landing and taking off. He traces where he’s been working on a fire map on the station wall.

It’s the end of day three on the job for this CPSU Member, who’s been escorting machinery to make sure they don’t spark up a fire. It’s hasn’t been the most exciting day, and very tiring. But it’s part of the job. We were up on East-West track. We were looking after one 14-tonner and one 25-tonner excavator with mulching blades.

For Mark the fire season started just before Christmas at Poatina, and then it was the Forcett fire, before starting on the Molesworth Fire. The current fire’s certainly showed some tenacity. Some of this fire in the Derwent Valley has burnt into the wind, which shows you how dry it is out there.

Attending fires for Parks since 1994, before this he was a volunteer firey for nine years, and attended fires with Parks since 1994.

If you live in a small community, fire fighting is what the young people tend to do; the other generation have done their bit, so you have to step-up. It’s something you have pride in – fighting fires to protect your community.

Out on the fire ground, it’s about looking out for your mates. You’ve got to help each other out. Some of the fires that we’ve been on there are dangerous trees and other dangers.

 

TUESDAY was CPSU Parks and Wildlife Delegate Tom Courto’ s third day on the Molesworth fire but by no means the start of his duty on the fire ground. I’ve only really been in the office two to three weeks this year between fires.

Working hard: Tom Courto at Molesworth Control.

Working hard: Tom Courto at Molesworth Control.

On this fire his crew’s been putting containment lines in and burning out patches to tie in the fire edges,  preventing these from turning into a running fire.

It’s a fairly substantial job; we’ve put in some big burns so far – basically all for asset protection of towns and homes at the moment. It’s about making a buffer between what could potentially be the fire front and their homes.

All fires are different, and this fire’s certainly different to the Forcett fire, where we were mainly doing asset protection – actually putting out houses in the Forcett fire and saving stock, whereas at this fire in terms of its behaviour, it is quite active in the afternoon. Even with the cooler temperatures it’s got the potential to get up and go for a run just because the fuel’s so much dryer here.

On the job, a normal fire shift is 12 hours, but can go longer. It’s not a mad-rush home either. Debriefing is all important at the end of this long day.

You’ve just got to learn to have a laugh with the guys at the end of the day and talk about your experiences; otherwise you end up taking too much on board. It’s sort of the unspoken rule; we talk about it at the end of the day and get it all off your chest.

Tom got involved with fires seven years ago after an email was circulated at work asking staff to be involved in the fire fighting effort. It’s his seventh season and he’s certainly racked up hours, skills and knowledge.

There are plenty more Members working on this and other fires – from Parks, TFS, Forestry Tasmania and plenty of other agencies.

The CPSU thanks all these people who’re working hard to make our state safe. Your work is appreciated.

1 Comment

1

Julie Southwell - February 19th, 2013, 11:26PM

Great job guys! I'm really proud of all of you. Gives me a better understanding of what my PWS colleagues go through while I'm beavering away in Finance (DPIPWE).

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