I’m not a hero I’m just a bit tired: six days fighting bushfires

Published: January 26, 2006 | 3375th good news item since 2003

Hear from an Anakie local as he enters his sixth consecutive day behind the wheel of the town’s firetruck, battling fires in the Brisbane Ranges.

Fancy knocking Nicole Kidman, Adam Gilchrist and Australian of the Year Prof. Ian Frazer off the frontpage of Melbourne’s biggest selling daily newspaper, the Herald-Sun on Australia Day. That’s exactly what Colin Trotter, Anakie resident and driver for the Anakie fire truck has done, and his fellow firefighters are letting him know all about it this morning.

“That was a bit of a set-up from the captain,” he says with a wry smile. Did they get his good side? “Yeah, I suppose the best side they could get,” he replies, the smile broadening.

It’s 8am Thursday morning at Anakie’s local sports oval, and while outwardly the firefighters preparing for the day’s work are joking and chatting amiably, the weather forecast for Australia Day is not good. Extremely hot, with the dreaded north wind – pretty much the last thing anyone wanted to hear on the sixth day of fighting a bushfire that’s still not under control.

“It’s quietened down a bit to what it was on Sunday. It’s a bit quiet at the moment, but today could be anything else,” says Colin. Having been at the fire since it began, did he always think it was going to be this serious, or was it something that developed?

“Yeah, it was something that developed. Probably about 1 or 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon it turned to sh**,” he quips with a chuckle, belying the seriousness of a fire that swept through the small town before a windchange turned its path, preventing further loss of property.

“It’s been a real good effort from everybody. Lucky there’s been nobody injured and there’s only been a few losses in buildings or stuff like that. It’s been a real good effort.”

It’s physically demanding work, in searing temperatures on rugged, hilly terrain through a national park – how are the crews holding up?
“The crews are real good, mate – they’re a good team of blokes. We’ve probably all been together for the last four or five days, we all know what we’re about,” he says.

Colin is back in the Anakie fire truck cabin after the night shift team have headed home for a well deserved break, having worked their 12 hour shift overnight to quell hotspots – a team made up of CFA volunteers from Shellford and Dereel, roughly 50-100km west of Anakie. How do the crews from other areas go on the back of local trucks?

“We usually have one of the locals driving the truck, and you have other teams from other brigades on the back doing the other work. You know where your truck and who are the people on it,” he says.

How important is local knowledge to safely fighting forest fires such as this?
“Real important. You have to know where you are, otherwise you can be in some trouble. You’ve really go to know what you’re doing.”

With five trucks per strike team and more than 50 strike teams covering the day and night shifts at the fire, how does a small town like Anakie get that local knowledge out to the crews and drivers who are unfamiliar with the area?

“The local knowledge goes to the strike team leaders, and they use our knowledge on where we should be and what the terrain’s like, and it’s about time our local knowledge was used in these sorts of situations.”

One of the issues showing up in many conversations with local firefighters is the sometimes tough personal decision to get on a firetruck and head off to a blaze when their own homes are being threatened by fire.

“Yeah, well it is, but I suppose that’s what you got to do if you belong to the fire brigade, you go where you go. We don’t get paid for it, it’s a volunteer job, so if you’re in the truck you can’t choose where you want to be. I suppose that’s part of bein’ there,” he says.

As for today – with what amounts to one of the worst weather forecasts one could hear in a state affected by hundreds of bushfires covering tens of thousands of hectares of land, what’s his prognosis?

“Everything’s looking a bit serious, depending on how strong the winds get. They’ve got heaps of water tankers floating around, let’s hope it doesn’t get any worse. It’s going to go south if it goes anywhere. It’s not going to come back this way. Hopefully.”

Published in Heroes, Volunteer
See also: www.abc.net.au
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