This report follows on from Roger’s letter in the local Press about the Brigade’s activities during the recent storm on the Mountain and at Lowood. That same storm turned North Bundaberg into a true disaster area with whole streets of uninhabitable houses. Again we were there to help.
At 0730 on Monday, 11th February, 2013 Robbo, together with 28 other firies from SEQ, boarded a comfortable Murray’s bus at QFRS Beenleigh which took us to Bundaberg. Our team was made up of 18 Rurals and 11 Auxiliaries (including Andy and Keegan from the MT Auxiliaries). We got to Bundaberg about 1500 and had our arrival briefing for the coming week. Our main job was, of course, to do washouts for householders or other premises and there was plenty work still ahead although much had already been done. A by-product of this prior work was that most of the straightforward tasks had been completed so that the remaining jobs usually had a particular element of difficulty. This might be the need to coordinate with insurance companies or wait for the Council to clear the street drainage so that the washed-out mud had somewhere to go or just that a task was awkward. Using water to get rid of the mud is best done with a 38 mm hose and Protek nozzle on full-flow setting – it really shifts the stuff. But water that is added must finally be removed so there is always a lot of demanding physical action on brush and squeegee. You don’t stay clean and the ‘mud’ may contain all sorts of nasty things!
The briefing laid great stress on hand-washing and use of sanitising liquid before eating food. Lunch was always supplied at our Sector base where hand-washing and “Aqium” sanitising liquid were readily available. On return to the Camp we had a fairly elaborate and compulsory process of decontaminating. First our issued gum boots had to be hosed clean and dipped in bleach. Then we took all our clothes off and donned white, paper overalls (similar to the sort of kit you see police SOCOs wearing on TV).Our dirty clothes went into an individual plastic bag with our name for laundry and return in a new individual bag within 24 hours. This was a brilliantly successful service. Then a shower and into clean clothes for dinner. These measures had the desired result and no one suffered, or had suffered from any kind of bug.
We were housed in tents as shown in the photo. These were not just any tents; they were the accommodation component of Queensland’s’ International Disaster Recovery Unit certified by the United Nations. This entire unit with 160 QFRS members is normally available for deployment anywhere in the World with take off in a C-17 within 8 hours of the command. So that they impose no extra burden on the host country (e.g. at the Christchurch earthquake) they carry all their own special rescue tools, accommodation, water recovery, mess facilities, toilets and ablutions together with generators to power them. There are 16 sleeping tents to hold all the team members. We had 12 tents with up to 11 per tent. Male and female members were mixed in each tent. Routine was up at 0500 for breakfast, briefing for the day including allocation of newly arrived members to trucks, then off to our respective sectors where we were allocated specific jobs. Back to Camp by 1700 for dinner at 1800 Food was always ample and good. Breakfast and dinner was in the Cricket Club’s building, served there by volunteers from the Club. Much appreciated! For Robbo at least, sleeping bag by 2000 to sleep like a log till 0500.
On our first morning there were more trucks (left by crews going home) than could be fully manned. Robbo was lucky to get MR71 – Rural Ops Tanker 03 – first alone and then with an Auxiliary Officer, Kris, and Jamie, a young Rural. Together we formed a very happy and productive team. The photo shows a sister ship, Rural Ops Tanker 02. It looks like an urban truck without the ladder but it has all the rural necessities plus a 10,000 litre collar tank in the lower locker. It is on a 2-WD Izusu 800 chassis and carries 7,000 litres of water for a total weight of 14 tons. The pump is twice as powerful as those on our mediums and it runs two 38 mm hoses at full bore and non-stop with ease. It was the ideal truck for the job we had to do. A neat feature is the air-assisted gear change. When you treat it lightly like a manual car, changes are very sweet and smooth but a heavy hand brings squeals of protest. The truck’s downside is that it can easily sink in soft ground and get stuck.
We cleaned many houses and other premises but two merit mention. The first was a private swimming pool – a seeming indulgence with so much destruction around. It had half a metre of mud, sand, leaves, glass and general gunge in the bottom and this all had to be shovelled to the top and barrowed away. The owner, Dallas, worked hard with us at this task. When the whole pool had been rinsed out and was was really clean we refilled with 60,000 litres of water using our hoses from a nearby hydrant. The parents delight was evident but even more so was that of their youngster who has cerebral palsy and depends crucially on the pool for life-sustaining hydro-therapy. This was a most satisfying experience which, by itself alone, made the whole deployment worthwhile.
Another special job was working at the Bert Hinkler Memorial Park – which is also the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. It was the evacuation centre for people who had lost their homes. Some had lost their homes in the literal sense of not being able to find them – the flooding torrent had swept them from their foundations and, presumably, carried them out to sea. For Robbo, Bert Hinkler is Australia’s greatest aviator of the classic era (Hinkle, Hinkle, little star, sixteen days and here you are) and that added further enthusiasm to the job. We thoroughly cleaned many of the roads and paths but were not able to finish the task as we had to wait for the Council to load and truck away large amounts of debris which were blocking access.
As an aside, no less than four of the places on the northern outskirts that we attended had scored a boat somewhere on their property. One was a fine 40 foot yacht. The house had lost its plastic swimming pool but the yacht, which was only a few metres away and apparently undamaged, seemed a very favourable swap..
At Friday morning briefing we had one minute’s silence to remember the two firefighters killed by a falling tree at Harrietville in Victoria. This was followed by the recurrent message “look after each other”.
On Sunday, back by coach to Beenleigh and thence up the Mountain. A good week all round.”