Chambers Flat Rural Fire Service Prepared for Fire Season
The last fire season, stretching most intensely from late November 2019 to early February this year, saw unprecedent bushfires destroy large areas of habitat and many homes along the East Coast of Australia. The importance of our Rural Fire Services has never been clearer. We sat down with First Officer David Heck of the Chambers Flat Rural Fire Brigade to understand life inside this important aspect of our community.
How long have you worked here at the Brigade? I started here in September 1993.
That’s a long time! What did the Brigade look like back then?
We didn’t have a station then. We had a trailer, a little light-attack Toyota Land-Cruiser, which was ex-forestry when they used them. They used to send them out to Wacol and the prisoners would fit a tank and a pump to them. We built [the station] in October 1995. Our first appliance was a Mitsubishi Canter.
How many members were there back then?
There was a fire on Chambers Flat Road out near the back of my property and so I went to give the guys some money for fuel. They said: keep your money, we need members. We had a community meeting on whether to shut it down, amalgamate, or reinvigorate, so I think thirty or forty new members signed up that night. Now on the books we have about seventy or eighty members. Because you get members on shift work or members that are away you never get the same group of people here every night.
What’s your position here at the Brigade?
I’m the First Officer, so I’m in charge here at the Brigade.
Why did you join the Brigade?
To be honest, it was to do something for the community. But along the lines of it’s also very enjoyable with some serious times in it.
What’s the best part of being a rural firefighter?
We have a lot of fun – we’re like a big family. I’ve been in a couple other brigades over the years as well, and we’ve made some lifelong friends out of it. Our kids were in it, and they still see their friends, and their kids have grown up together, so it’s been good. I enjoy it immensely.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
The big fires we’ve been too. Last year was very tough and tiring. We did some long days. I’m retired so I did a lot of shifts, but I don’t consider that makes me better than anyone else. For someone who works and has family commitments or young kids, a day away on a weekend or even a night-time training is time away from their family, so I think that’s just as valuable. I didn’t count up the days, but we had crews down through to Canungra early September right up to fires down the back of Beaudesert which was not long before Christmas. We had people down in Canberra, we had people in northern New-South Wales. So, I think from Christmas time going back eighteen-months we’ve been really busy. There’re not many times over the years I’ve actually asked people to see if they can take time off work – last year was one of those, it was just day after day after day. I think that’s the worst fire season in Queensland in recent history.
What does the Brigade do when it meets?
We meet two days a week. Tuesdays are training nights and Saturdays are generally hazard reduction burns or some maintenance.
What are the most common calls you respond to?
Grassfires, bushfires, illegal burns. We’ve had a few accidents lately. So, we get called to pretty much everything in our area. Most of all its grassfires and bushfires. We’ve even been up into Woodridge, so sometimes we get called out to support fire and rescue in tracks where there’s no reticulated water.
How is the Brigade planning for next fire season?
We’re looking at possible below-average rain. We don’t get a lot of rain in winter. The service is looking at possibly some fast-running grass fires this year. We’ve had a lot of rain in January which put a fair bit of growth out. You go out to the Scenic Rim or Boonah area a lot of cattle have been taken off the properties due to droughts, and you’ve had the army worm come through and eat a lot of the good grasses and left a lot of the rubbishy stuff, so the grass is probably about four foot tall out there. We’re doing hazard-reduction burns where we can – we’re out helping at national parks today. We don’t have a particularly big area, but we end up supporting a lot of outer areas and brigades, so we add to the surge capacity of the service. So, as risk diminishes as surrounding areas are being built out, we’re still able to provide that surge capacity. Once you get into farm-land you don’t get as many fires, because the farmers manage their risk pretty well. It’s more when you get people moving out into the bush and not managing their fuel loads on their properties. They haven’t got those skills to manage.
What can rural homeowners do to prepare?
The simplest of things is the best. Leaves out of gutters – in a bushfire you have ember attacks, and if they’re blowing in a strong wind they’ll get into the gutter and set any leaves on fire. Cleaning up around your house, keeping the lawns mowed and as green as possible. Don’t store your firewood up against your house. Little things like leaves in your gutters, leaves at the back door where the wind blows them – that’s where the embers are going to blow on a windy day.
The Chambers Flat Rural Fire Brigade operates a Facebook Page for inquiries. Additionally, the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) operates a Facebook page with regular updates and advice.