Fighting fire a 'whole-of-town effort' says Eden RFS Deputy Captain

FIREGROUND: Eden volunteer firefighters join strike teams made up of composite groups from several South Coast brigades fighting fires in the Shoalhaven and further north. Photo: Don Firth
FIREGROUND: Eden volunteer firefighters join strike teams made up of composite groups from several South Coast brigades fighting fires in the Shoalhaven and further north. Photo: Don Firth

Along with many volunteer brigades around the state, volunteers of the Eden Rural Fire Service have had an extremely busy few weeks, not only working in strike teams with the fires further north, but working in conjunction with the NSW Fire and Rescue and Forestry Corporation fire crews attending to incidents around Eden.

A couple of weeks ago a Victorian man was charged with arson after lighting a string of fires along the Princes Highway south of Eden. Then last Thursday a log truck went up in flames along Ben Boyd Road and over the weekend crews worked quickly to contain a small fire at Brandy Creek.

Eden RFS Deputy Captain Peter Standen said he is "overly impressed" with the efforts of the Eden volunteers labelling them as a "highly motivated" and energetic crew.

As well as looking after the region at home, some members of the 11-strong volunteer crew became part of composite strike teams made up of volunteers from brigades from the Far South Coast.

The teams were deployed to fire zones south of Ulladulla, Clarence River and further north working 12-hour shifts for three days at a time.

 On the front line: Firefighting south of Ullladulla. Photo: Don Firth

On the front line: Firefighting south of Ullladulla. Photo: Don Firth

Deputy Captain Standen said the handful of volunteers chosen to go north were generally those with the most experience.

He said deciding between who should stay and who should go can become a bit of a "balancing act" for the local captain.

"The captain has to choose personnel to stay in their home district as well as send qualified and competent personnel to other districts to assist, and this can get tricky because the brigade still needs to be able to look after their own local area."

He said Eden was fortunate to have a relatively young crew.

"Firefighting is physically demanding, youth and fitness go a long way. The stamina and the endurance of the younger volunteers compliment the older members- it makes for a good team."

Going into detail about the strike force team of which he was a part during the Currowan fires, Deputy Captain Standen said his team members were deployed to protect property.

"We would work on three to four properties in the same vicinity - as the fires approached and passed we would move onto another area, " he said.

"The teams did really well. We weren't only dealing with fire we were also dealing firsthand with the anxiety and fear some property owners had.

"Home owners were helpful and appreciative of us. Every now and then you'd get a tap on the shoulder and it'd be somebody offering you a cup of tea - it was a nice feeling.

 On the front line: Firefighting south of Ullladulla. Photo: Don Firth

On the front line: Firefighting south of Ullladulla. Photo: Don Firth

"Unfortunately there were some homes lost. Well-prepared properties were easier to defend," he said, adding that most residents chose to leave.

"It was a wise choice in such dangerous conditions."

Describing the firefighting efforts on the ground at times as emotionally intense, he said he was appreciative of the winding down time given to the firefighters to be able to step back for a few hours.

"They (RFS) try to give you at least a 10-hour break for decent sleep."

Deputy Captain Standen said Eden was an exemplary community when it came to offering support for its firefighting volunteers.

"Employers around the town have been very supportive allowing their workers to leave to whenever there's been a call out.

"The community as a whole has been very supportive of the brigade with donations and any equipment we might need.

"It really is a whole town effort," he said.