Billy had only just returned from being part of a contingent of 20 fire
fighters from New Zealand, who had been sent over for a three week
deployment to help to relieve the exhausted Victorian crews. Just as
the Post was going to print, we had been advised by his wife, Debra,
that Billy had been called up for another 21 day deployment, this time
“Billy got the call on Thursday, flew out on Friday and has just been driven to a little town called Queenstown in Hobart. There, he will be airlifted by helicopter to the mountain terrain to battle the fires.
There will be times where the helicopter can’t land, and they will have
to jump from it to access the area.”
Even though she has only had her husband home for less than a week, Debra couldn’t be more proud of Billy. “This is such an amazing opportunity
for him, and he has to do it while he is fit and young,” she laughs, “We are incredibly proud of him and are looking forward to the updates.”
For humble Billy, who has been a part of the brigade for 12 years, it
was just another experience of being a volunteer firefighter. “I wanted
to help after being told that there was an opportunity to go. This was
my second time over there, as I was selected to attend a deployment
over the 2014/2015 season.
The requirements are quite stringent, and you have to pass a medical and
fitness test before you are considered.” Billy believes that without the
support from the senior leaders at the Awhitu station, there wouldn’t
be opportunity to help the Australian fire fighters. “I am very lucky
to have the full support of not only my family, but the team at Awhitu
Rural Fire Force as well. I really take my hat off to the firefighters in Australia.
The extreme conditions they face year after year are demanding, and they make huge sacrifices, both paid and volunteer staff.” The team were sent to the Wye River-Jamieson Track fire which had been raging coastal Victoria since Christmas Day, destroying 116 homes and 2,700 hectares of bush. “The days are quite harsh. Safety is paramount and you are up at 6am for the first rounds of briefing. Then you head out to the front line.
It is incredibly physical and you have to be at the top of your game.”
Billy explained the methods that were predominately used were dry fighting and back burning, which saw the fire being ‘pulled apart’ slowly by tools. “You have to break it down, so if there is a log burning, you have to demolish it, or if there are coals, you have to put them out.
It becomes quite hard when you are working in 30 to 40 degree heat, in a
small gully with no wind. ”
A low point for Billy during his time spent over there was seeing the
effect the fires not only have on people’s homes, but the devastation it’s caused to the wildlife. “When marking out tracks for the bulldozers, you come across so many perished animals. For koalas, the only way they
see to escape is up. The first thing we do is give them water, then contact the wildlife rescue to come and attended to them. It really is quite awful.”