January 17, 2014 by Dadinator
No, not for Godot (thanks year 12 Literature)
I’m waiting to see if we get more lightning tonight.
I’m waiting for news.
I’m waiting for something to happen.
I’m waiting for my pager to go off.
In short, I’m waiting for bushfire.
Yes a bushfire. Hopefully I’m waiting for a long long time. In an ideal world I shall be waiting forever.
Bushfire is a scary word. We all know what it means across the entire continent. For Victorians, like me, it means Ash Wednesday. It means Black Saturday. For people living in bush fire areas (like me) it means knowing the difference between Very High, Severe, Extreme and Code Red. It means knowing exactly what you can and can’t do during a Total Fire Ban Day. It means knowing what frequency ABC local radio broadcasts in Australia (91.1FM around here)
So yes, it is an odd thing to be waiting for, but on school holidays, with the family down in Melbourne, 42 degrees outside and a shade of cabin fever, this little CFA rookie is surgically attached to his pager.
Monday night was my first time on a truck. Tuesday was the first time on a hose.
From my experience so far a call out goes like this: You dash to the station, get your gear out of your car and run in. A truck is usually getting ready and you belt off to the location you’ve been sent. Sometimes it’s already gone, so you drive off after it, catch up and hop on. If you’re on the back of the truck you chat. About your day, about your kids about whatever. You constantly sweep the landscape looking for smoke. You may be trying to put on overalls and boots while you chat. If you’re new like me people do everything short of literally hold your hand to look after you. After all, you need both hands to do your job.
The one fire I did attend was no longer burning by the time we got there, we were ‘blacking out’, hosing down smoking trees and scrub, splitting open logs and stumps and putting in a fire break to make sure this fire didn’t flare up again. Or if it did, at least it wouldn’t have anywhere to go. This is most of the work CFA volunteers do, not glamorous, not pretty but massively important to make sure little fires don’t turn into big fires. When a fire’s small you can contain it. If it gets big there’s not much you can do. So we emptied our truck’s water supply, headed back to the station and filled her up again for the next one.
As city slickers the whole fire thing spooks us. As parents of two very young children it spooks us all the more. We made a decision that during weather streaks like the one we are experiencing, which as given us 5 days in a row above 40°C, or on days when the fire danger gets bad, The Mamanator will take the kids to Melbourne to stay with her parents. The Mamanator’s parents also live by the beach, which is much more pleasant in the hot weather. I’m staying because there are animals to look after and also because if there are fire incidents I want to be available to help out the Brigade.
This has meant rattling around a big house on my own, spending much of the day not wearing pants and talking to myself a lot because the house feels too quiet. It also means I have a constant sense of unease. Do I go out for a coffee or down to the shops? Do I start cooking? Do I start anything? What if the pager goes off just after I turn on the stove? What if what if what if?
Of course the fear of it is worse than the reality, out here at least. As I write there are people living in the west of the state that have either been told to leave their homes or (which is scarier) been told it’s too late to leave so they have to take shelter. I hope they get through it.
In the meantime I’m listening out for the distinctive “Beep beep beep beep”, hoping I can help if/when needed. If it had started beeping right now I would have had a better way finish the post….. Oh well. At least that means there’s no new fires around here.
PS – to all in the local brigade who have helped me, looked after me and shown me what to do over the last few days, I am massively grateful. You’re all legends. I hope one day I will be as useful to the community.
To all other CFA members across the state, stay safe, drink loads of water and good luck out there.