by John Robertson
The afternoon of Sunday 16th November brought a spectacular lightning show to the Mountain with nigh continuous rumbling, large hail, heavy rain, low cloud and strong winds. Within those general winds were small vortices powered by individual thunderclouds with rotary wind speeds of up to 80 knots (150 kph). They did impressive damage at the north end of the Mountain and elsewhere in SEQ. As is usual in such events the damage was localised with one property being devastated while another, nearby, was almost untouched.
At 15.05 the Brigade was paged to assist. On our part of the Mountain the auxiliary and rural brigades were the only response to the storm. First on the scene was Paul, TM2, who was already helping to control traffic near the urban station when members from the south side passed on the way to our station. First truck to respond was 51 with Barry and Robbo. This was followed by 52 with John H and Roger (resourceful Roger found and cured a fault in 52’s isolator switch which got it going) and by 41 with Julian and Manuel. We all gathered at the urban station which was the centre of activity and the control point. Peter Mason was de facto I/C. Nev, Rory, Mal P and John F came in their own vehicles. Tony and Jenny operated the two base radios.
The state of play across the whole Mountain was not clear at first. One thing was very obvious; Hartley Road was blocked completely just opposite the fire station where it adjoins Main Western Road About eight tress had been blown over (from south to north) and had taken the (bare wire) 11,000 volt power lines with them. The tangle of wires and branches filling the road was a sight to behold. Everything, including all firefighters on foot, was saturated and so susceptibility to electric shock was potentially high. A certificate from Energex that power was OFF was the first essential before any clearance work could start. Energex had been called but, with innumerable cries for help across SEQ, had not yet arrived.
The Brigade had three roles: reconnaissance to see which roads were or were not clear; where roads were obstructed by fallen trees but not entangled with power cables, cutting the trees and putting them aside, and traffic control. Lahey Road was blocked about the middle by a large fallen fig tree. So traffic control was the major part of our work. Paul and Barry were at the top end of Harley Road with Robbo at the bottom. Roger and Mal were at the top of Lahey Road with Neville at the bottom. In these circumstances ‘traffic control’ is a much more subtle process than mere STOP and SLOW. On Paul’s good advice we took the red flashing batons for the purpose. In the the very poor visibility and low light they were first rate.
On traffic control Robbo, for example, stopped and spoke to around 200 vehicles. About 4 out of 5 took it philosophically and accepted that they just could not go the way they wanted. Many of the remainder were already pretty anxious; “I have to collect my kids”; I have to pick up my wife/husband”; “I have to meet my friends”; “I’ve got to get to work”; “I have to get home tonight”. An abrupt or brusque word to those anxious people would make them a lot more anxious, even to the point of being an ‘accident waiting to happen’. It was essential to speak pleasantly, cheerfully and calmly so that the drivers were less anxious at the end of the conversation than at the start. The evidence is that the Brigade did this successfully.
Julian and Manuel did chainsaw work. Most importantly they cleared the tree blocking Curtis Road. This allowed vehicles ‘trapped’ on Long Road to get to North Tamborine. This was much appreciated by drivers!
Radio comms on VHF were very bad. It was not a problem with the sets, just a general reluctance of the radio waves to travel through all that fog and rain. One knows how they felt! It meant that those firefighters who were far isolated from their mates had no communications whatever. Tony held the fort on base radio and, at the right time, sent out an ‘all stations’ broadcast to say that each of the four roads off the Mountain was now clear. This was one of the few messages that came over distinctly and was of great value in enabling those on traffic control to advise drivers correctly.In those circumstances it is touching how a uniform leads people to think that you know everything. Would that it were so!
At about 1600 an Energex crew of two arrived and started to isolate the section at the top of Hartley Road. Only needs a switch on the nearest transformer to be thrown? There is far more to it than that. It took the crew, working really hard, over two hours to obtain isolation to the standard that they could certify.
Channel 9 and 10 both send reporters and camera crews to record the scene and this was reported on Monday’s news.
At about 1900 we were recalled to the urban station. Paul in 52 appeared as an angel of mercy to Robbo! At the station we had a great spread provided by Jan and Marcia. This was even more commendable than usual as they had done it with no power, no fridge and no shops, let alone takeaways, open. The Brigade is so very lucky with its support stalwarts!
Peter Mason thanked all present for their work. TM1 thanked the TMRFB members – the majority of those present. So back to the Station and stand down about 2030. But the story will continue.