Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mid North Coast Floods

Catastrophic fires have ravished Victoria, massive floods have inundated far Nth Queensland and now flooding hits the mid north coast. Talk about climate change!

I played a small part in helping those affected by the floods that impacted on the Port Macquarie area last week. We’d had a heads up about severe weather in the area and had already deployed one member to be part of a management team overseeing operations. On Tuesday 17th Feb I got a phone call, “Can I be at Albion Park airport ASAP, you’re off to Port Macquarie”. An hour later I was sitting in the RFS commissioners plane heading north. Di Gordon and myself were being tasked to Wauchope to assist with potential flooding around the town.

Once at Wauchope the full extent of recent rains could be seen. Paddocks were lakes, creeks covered roads, the Hastings River was rising and still the rain fell. With some further intel and reconnaissance a plan was hashed on what could be done to reduce the impact on residents of Wauchope. Regular visits to the river gauge showed how quickly the water was rising. Predicted water levels were of concern, but just when it was thought that evacuations might be necessary upstream river heights began to steady. Some low lying farmers self helped themselves to higher ground, but as the night drew longer it was apparent that expected levels would no longer be reached.

The following morning, the major threat had passed and our work at Wauchope was done. After a visit to see the new Port Macquarie LHQ we headed down to Taree for further tasking.

My next task proved to be very enjoyable. “Dave get yourself on a helicopter and start organising resupplies for the Kempsey area” were the words that rung through my ears. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I was on an RFS Bell 212 helicopter that had been tasked to the region. 30min later I was in Kempsey stocking up with food supplies for out lying stranded residents. Being airborne quickly made me appreciate the devastation caused by the floods. Everywhere we looked rivers had burst their banks, cattle were huddled together on small islands and roads were cut. We had small ration type bags of food onboard, that we started dropping off at isolated farms. The residents were so grateful to see us and welcomed us wherever we put down. Often I had to stop and pinch myself at how much fun can one have when helping the community. Hours spent flying around in a helicopter, doing what you love and getting to see plenty of unforgettable sights. The floods around Crescent Head were that bad that in some cases we had to winch food bags into the resident as the floods had totally inundated their properties.

Alas all good things must come to an end and we eventually run out of daylight and had to return to Port. The following day, with more of the same planned were about to take to the skies when our plans were cut short by political red tape. A few hours later my helicopter crew had been released and they were heading for home, likewise I was returning to Taree for further tasking. As it turns out this was to be my final field task. After a few hours spent tidying up loose ends at Oxley region, Di and myself were on our way home.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Swiftwater Rescue

The SES is moving into the field of ‘Swiftwater Rescue Awareness’. Yesterday I had the opportunity to be part of a course held at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium. This was my first visit to this Stadium, sure I’d seen it on the T.V as part of the Olympics but my first impression upon seeing it for real was how big the place was. The actual course itself was empty so we got to see how and what makes the rapids etc. Soon enough the 5 huge pumps kicked in and the course came alive. Some 14000 litres/sec of water is pumped around the course.

Our awareness course involved a few hours theory where whitewater terminology, personal survival and rescue techniques were all explained. Soon enough we hit the water. Nerves soon gave way to excitement as practiced a few defensive and offensive swimming techniques. With the basics complete we did a few laps of the course, we simply bobbed up and down in the whitewater like floating buoys.

With little time to rest we undertook further rescue techniques like human triangles for negotiating swollen creeks and rope recoveries, these both proved to be fun and hard work. Our afternoon activities involved more recoveries and dealing with strainers. A strainer is a partially submerged log or shopping trolley that traps victims while allowing water past…. After getting a demonstration on how to negotiate a strainer it was then our then. One of our team members got it all wrong and came nursing a bloody nose. “That’s not how to do it” was his words as he was lead off for some first aid.

Our final activity for the day was to have a bit of fun in the inflatable rafts. Using 2 rafts we had a few laps of the course, each time adding a bit more fun and excitement into the adventure. As always, when more risk is added it ultimately ends in a big crash and on our last lap we had a big crash. All of us were ejected from the raft, once in the calmness of an eddy we regained our composure and seats before finishing the course.

What a great day, I wish all SES courses were like this one.