Tuesday, November 29, 2011

QFRS Swiftwater Course

Swiftwater Course QFRS – Tully

You can imagine my surprise and delight when I got a phone call offering me a place on the Queensland Fire and Rescue Swiftwater course. The smile grew even bigger when I heard it was at Tully (near Cairns) and I’d have to be up there for a week. Shannon Crofton and I were to evaluate the QFRS Swiftwater course from a participant’s perspective.

Arriving in Cairns on the 12th Nov we met with 2 guys from Melbourne Fire and our guide Don, before heading south to Mission Beach resort, which would be our accommodation for the week. As expected, FNQLD was tropically hot and humid and we were quickly in the pool once at the resort.

Day 1 and the 4 of us had a theory session to ensure our knowledge and skills were up to speed. This proved very enlightening as the QFRS certainly do a few things different to us. By the end of the day the remaining 12 Queensland participants had arrived.

The following morning saw us on the bus and heading to the Tully River by 7am. Plenty of jokes flowed about the potential crocodiles that reside in the river, we were assured that croc’s do actually live in the river which had us all a little concerned. Nevertheless we were soon at checkpoint 9 of the river and preparing for our first lesson.

The Tully River looked very impressive, yet daunting at the same time. For me, it was the first time I’d swum in a natural environment and the risk of danger seemed so much more real than swimming at Penrith Whitewater. The day unfolded with the usual defensive and offensive swimming and catching some of the smallest eddies. By the end of the day everyone was well and truly bushed and the talk on the bus returning to our resort reflected that.

Day 2 and 3 saw more of the same hard work plus the introduction of ropework and IWP’s. Once again the strain on my body was extremely taxing. On more than one occasion I had to dig deep on a swim leg, just to catch the desired eddy. Some of the roping techniques learned over the week will be invaluable in the improvement of Swiftwater rescue in our area. Likewise the use IWP’s (inflatable boats) will be more widely used after the week on the Tully. It was one of these IWP training sessions that I’ll remember for a long time to come. 7 of us experienced what it was like to be swept over a low head dam and fortunately we all popped out the other side relatively unscathed.

As day 4 started I was feeling less than healthy, I had arms of lead and my confidence was shot and with still 2 days ahead of me I knew that I couldn’t keep this pace and at this point I chose to refrain from further assessment. Its something I regret now as the hardest part of the course was behind us but at the time my fitness level was letting me down.

Throughout day 4 we did various small assessment drills, both on land and in the water. Late in the afternoon we did a few scenarios on the river which tested our teamwork, one of these included a night scenario where an unknown number of casualties had been lost on the river. This was a great awareness session to what a rescuer could be faced with when undertaking a rescue on the water at night.

Our final day of the course was mostly spent using the IWP in various tethered systems as well as an introduction to the float ladder. With the course completed we headed back at the resort where we could finally relax with a well-deserved debrief and a good socialising session by the pool.

After 5 days on the Tully River I was absolutely spent, the QFRS Swiftwater course had been very demanding on my body but it was thoroughly rewarding. I had learned an array of new skills, refreshed current skills and knowledge and came home with a renewed interest in flood rescue.

Thanks to the instructors and my fellow participants for a great time on the Tully.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Family illness

Its never nice hearing that someone close to you is sick, it’s even worse hearing that the person is a family member. Your emotions hit rock bottom when a family member is rushed to hospital with possible heart problems. That was the scenario I was confronted with when I received one of those dreaded phone calls from a family member.

Dad’s health had always been pretty good so it was a total shock to hear that a visit to the local specialist resulted in an ambulance ride straight to hospital. Some routine blood tests picked up some anomalies in his blood that warranted his admission to Lismore Base Hospital. This started a chain of events that 10 days later saw my father under the surgeon’s knife having a heart bypass and a new aortic valve inserted while in a Brisbane hospital.

Some quick scrambling ensured that we were by Dad’s side as he undertook this emergency surgery. From all accounts this type of surgery is common practice nowadays but all the reassurance in the world doesn’t prepare you for the fear you face seeing a loved one laid up after such a big operation. That said, the surgeon assured us that the operation went well and Dad would make a full recovery.

2 weeks later, Dad is recovering well at home. He has a long road ahead of him, but the shortness of breath is gone and apart from the pain of having your sternum cut down the middle he is in good health and spirits.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bula from Fiji

For many years we have wanted to venture off-shore for a holiday but have waited till the kids were old enough to enjoy it. At 8 and 6 we thought the time was right and thus we booked 10 nights in Fiji. Other Asian destinations didn’t appeal to us but the majestic and beautiful Fiji seemed to have everything we wanted.

The Fijian Shangri-La was chosen as our destination, it offered great facilities for the kids and a good variety of adult activities. The 14th Jul was our departure date and as the time grew close the excitement within the family also grew. We’d all flown before but never from the international airport.

Arriving in Fiji the first thing we noticed was the heat, it was the middle winter and a very warm 30deg. A far cry from the 15deg temperatures we’d left back in Wollongong. After clearing customs our airport transfers took us directly to the Shangri-La. Driving down the Fijian coast we were surprised by the lifestyle and roads, both were something new for us and our kids sat wide eyed looking out the window.

The Shangri-La was very welcoming of us, huge smiling faces and singing greeted us and we were quickly shown to our room. By now it was late afternoon and the kids were so keen for a swim that they were straight into their togs and off to the pool. Beauty was the first thing that caught our eye, the setting looked straight out of a postcard, swaying palm trees set against a setting sun.

We quickly fitted into “Fiji time” and the relaxed way of life. Nothing happens at a great pace in Fiji and that suited us, as we were here to relax. As our first day drew to a close we dined in an open-air restaurant overlooking the water with a beautiful sunset.

Over the following days we began to unwind and take full advantage of what the resort had to offer. The girls both had their hair braided, the kids literally lived in the pool, while Leonie and I enjoyed drinks by the pool or a swim in the tempered ocean waters. Watersports were high on our agenda with us all doing banana boat rides, snorkelling, kayaking and speedboat rides.

A couple of the highlights of our holiday was our day trip on the cane train riding to Natadola where we visited a native village, explored a tribes disused cave and met plenty of the locals. On another day we hired a car and went exploring the coral coast where we found numerous resorts tucked away as well as a few local geocaches. Our drive took us into the town of Sigatoka where we experienced the local shopping treats.

Like all good things our holiday was slowing coming to an end, but not before we experienced a few more local delights, which included a kava tasting, a relaxing full body massage overlooking the beach and a Polynesian fire dancing night where the locals delighted us with their amazing fire twirling and dancing.

After gathering our share of souvenirs it was till to head home. Boarding the plane in Nadi it was a balmy 30deg, only to be informed by the pilot that upon our arrival in Sydney it would be a shivering 14deg – welcome home.

We thoroughly enjoyed our experience in Fiji and have vowed to return.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

15 Years of Navshield

Who would have imagined that I’d accumulate 15 years of participation in Australia’s leading navigational event for Emergency Services, but that’s what I did on the 2nd July 2011 at Mt Werong. My first event was way back in 1996 at the Blue Labyrinth (Blue Mts) and since then I have competed at events at Dunns Swamp, Patoney’s Crown, Nerriga and Euroka just to name a few.

Over those 15 years of participation I have been to some truly amazing locations, I’ve witnessed some breathtaking and harsh vistas, I’ve been a part of some really great team efforts over the years and on one occasion I had to withdraw due to ongoing SES operations.

Some highlights over the years include our 5 consecutive wins in the SES 2-day category, our 7th outright placing in the 2-day event and the 3rd outright placing in the 1-day event. Along the way though there have also been some equally impressive lowlights which shouldn’t go unmentioned. These include, finishing late, being geographically lost for short periods of the night, some massive blisters and scratches on my body and on one occasion I suffered badly from body fatigue.
Over the years, my fitness has been relatively good and I’ve been able to keep pace with some of the best. However as age catches up with us so does the ability to stay competitive and of recent years I have been resigned to competing at a more social level where I have hopefully educated others on some of the more finer points of map and compass navigation.

Every year throws up new and exciting challenges and it’s these unknown hurdles which keep drawing me back. Whether it’s the weather (rain, ice cold temperatures or even snow) or the vegetation (thick spikey heath, scratchy lantana or fallen eucalypt forests) or finally the terrain (swollen creeks, climbing steep knolls or strolling through open paddocks) Navshield is a unique event.

I look forward to continuing this annual pilgrimage to Navshield.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

State of Orign - Game 2

It has always been one of those sporting events that I’ve wanted to witness first hand, but have never got around to doing. That was until game 2 of the 2011 series. The NRL State of Origin QLD V’s NSW of recent years has been a lopsided affair with the better side QLD being victorious for the past 5 years. However a new coach and some passion to win have seen the NSW Blues eager to win a series.

Telstra Stadium at Homebush was the venue for game 2. NSW were already down 1 nil, so this match was do or die. Gloomy skies and cold nights had been the norm for the past week and game night looked to be the same. Whatever mother nature threw at us, we’d be ready. Plenty of warm clothes and raincoats were a must, but someone must have been shining on Telstra Stadium and the Blues that night cause everything was perfect.

82000 people had gathered for this game. A sea of blue was everywhere. The blue wig-brigade took up half the stadium and were all in fine voice, chanting New South Wales, New South Wales. It was an amazing spectacle and great to be a part of.

The game was played at a furious pace and QLD took an early lead and seemed to be on their ever-menacing rampage. Some of the hits from both teams would have most people dazed and concussed but these guys kept putting their body on the line time and time again. At half time it was 8-6 QLD.

The second half was a repeat of the first, both teams made line breaks and on a number of occasions a try was sure to result except for great defence. Eventually the relentless pressure by NSW resulted in a try out near our corner of the field. Almost all the 82000 fans went wild. Soward kicked the goal from the sideline and NSW lead 12-8. Could we tie the series, time would tell.
As the clock ticked down NSW hung onto their slender lead, but you knew the “never say die” attitude of QLD could not be underestimated and again QLD went extremely close to scoring a couple of times. However this time the luck was with NSW and with only minutes till full-time, Soward made a break and unselfishly passed to Minichiello who crashed over for the winning try. Soward added the extras for a 18-8 victory to NSW.

My first “at field” experience of S of O couldn’t have been better. A win for NSW and the series was alive going to game 3. The weather had remained fine and the 80000+ fans left joyfully and dry. What a great night.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pride of the Illawarra - Volunteer winner

The inaugural Pride of the Illawarra Emergency Services awards were held on the 7th May 2011 at City Beach, Wollongong.

The event was organised by the Rotary Clubs of the Illawarra and was about acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of local Emergency Services personnel. Seven NSW emergency services (Police, Fire, Ambulance, SES, RFS, VRA and Marine Rescue) all participated in the event with nominations being called from each service. The SES (State Emergency Service) put four nominees forward for the awards.

The four nominees, their partners, friends and Service dignitaries were among the 300 people that attended the awards dinner. It was easy to see that all nominees shared a common interest and a love for those field and to be selected as a finalist in this company of people was a great honour.

As the night unfolded each finalist was presented to the audience with a short bio of their achievements being read out. Each finalist (12 in total) was presented with a certificate of achievement at this time.

After a lavish 3-course dinner, the major part of the awards night got underway with each Emergency Service being awarded their “Pride of the Illawarra” service winner. For the SES that accolade was given to me. To hear my name read out as the SES winner was one of shock, amazement and ecstatic joy. I received a nice plaque and gift voucher for winning the SES category.

There were still 2 awards remaining, the overall winner (paid) and the overall winner (volunteer). I remember sitting in my seat thinking very nervously that I had a 1 in 4 chance of winning this… Holy shit, within minutes my greatest achievement had become reality. My name had been read out again, this time as the overall winner (volunteer) for the inaugural “Pride of the Illawarra”. The shock, emotion and euphoria were far greater this time as our table erupted into applause and cheers. On stage I was presented with a larger, more impressive plaque, another gift voucher and far great recognition. This time I was asked to say a few words, which I must say I stumbled and stuttered my way through due to the emotion I was feeling.

The rest of the night seemed to float on by with me having a grin from ear to ear. Countless people came up to congratulate me on my achievement while I was never far from someone snapping a photo of me.

Since the awards night I have ridden the rollercoaster of joy that comes with such recognition. I am truly honoured to receive such an award. Volunteer of the Year has a nice ring to it.

I have to thank my wife and family, my peers for nominating me and to the Rotary Clubs of the Illawarra for having such a vision.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Weekend in the City

After spending the Easter/ANZAC weekend on work standby I wanted to take the family away. Our original plan was to take the caravan up to the Lane Cove Caravan Park, but the prediction of wet weather dampened our idea of camping in the caravan. Still wanting the get away we chose to stay at the Formule 1 motel at Homebush Bay.

We headed up to Sydney early on the Saturday morning where we headed straight over to the CITO event in the Lane Cove National Park. Here we met up with a few familiar faces and assisted in the clean up around the river. The onset of rain was our signal to leave and from here we headed over to our motel.

The idea of staying in a motel always has our kids excited and today was no exception. Upon checking in we were pleased to see our room had good views of the Olympic area and the kids quickly took dibs on which bed was their’s.

For the rest of the afternoon we took the kids around to the Aquatic Centre where we all had fun playing and swimming in the activities on offer. We only left when we did cause we’d all turned into wrinkle prunes. However what it did do was wear out the kids sufficiently enough that they were almost ready for bed. Which, after showers and an easy dinner that’s what they did. This allowed Leonie and I to have a relaxing night together.

Sunday and it was family fun day on the public transport, which we took full advantage of. We boarded a Rivercat at Ryldemere for the one-stop trip into the city. The kids were so excited with our water transport and were constantly spying new things out the window, meanwhile Leonie and I were awe of the money which adjoins the foreshore and harbour. We were soon heading under the harbour bridge for the first time and soon after were docking at Circular Quay.
After a short stop we were on our way around to Pyrmont Point where we had to time to have a quick look around and do a spot of cache maintenance. Back on a ferry its back to Circular Quay where after a change of ferry we were on our way to Cockatoo Island. This was to be our first ever visit to this inner city island and it was very rewarding.

Once on the island the kids got right into the kids tour while I completed one of the few remaining virtual caches still available. The weather was perfect for a day out in the sun and our time on the island was absolutely wonderful. We checked out the camping for a possible future adventure and took a number of great family pics with the harbour as our backdrop.

Regrettably it was soon time to leave and after another Rivercat ride we were soon at Rydalmere. From here it was an hour trip home in the car and the end of a great weekend.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

10 Year Wedding Anniversary

Reaching this milestone in our marriage has been filled with an array of highs and lows, but it has been a journey that I wouldn't change.

To celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary I had originally thought of surprising Leonie with a weekend on the Gold Coast. After deciding to do the planning as a team effort we both agreed to head to Melbourne for a weekend.

On the 10-12th Apr the 2 of us took a flight to Melbourne where we stayed in the luxurious 5-star “Stamford Plaza Hotel”. Amongst other things, we had planned a relaxing 3 days soaking up the sights of Melbourne. Once at the hotel we were immediately taken by the quality. Bell-boys, concierge and countless staff seen to our comforts. The room was majestic, a TV screen welcomed us with a message of enjoyment.

The rest of our day was spent enjoying a walk in the rain around the Botanical Gardens, like two big kids. That night we headed into Chinatown where we dined in a little quaint Chinese restaurant enjoying a 2-course meal with a bottle of red.

Sunday was to be a fun filled day, we headed up to the Queens St markets where we strolled the isles in search of that night’s dinner and some treats for the kids. Heading back into town we freshened up before hitting the theatre. Our first stage-play in many years and we’d picked a ripper. “Rock of Ages” was absolutely unreal. We both sung and danced along to all the songs.
To complete the night we dined on a home cooked meal in our room before relaxing in the spa with a number of alcoholic beverages.

Our last day in town and we chose to do a bit of shopping. We headed down to the DFO shops but were sadly disappointed as they didn't open within our time constraints and had to leave. Our last appointment before heading home was to partake in a relaxing Japanese massage. This experience was just what we needed to unwind before we headed home.

Reality was soon upon us as we boarded our flight home and back to our awaiting kids, who’d missed us deeply.

If this is how we celebrate our 10th anniversary, I can’t wait for another 10 years.
I love you Leonie with all my heart.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shellharbour STP Floods

As a volunteer emergency service worker I’m often the one who is helping others in times of need, but on the 21st Mar 2011 I was at the mercy of the weather when my place of employment flooded due heavy rainfall.

The proceeding days had been ones of constant rain with the surrounding areas being at saturation point. On the Monday, extremely heavy rain began to fall early in the morning and it didn’t seem to let up. By midday the grassed areas contained within the plant had begun to pool and the creek, which runs down the back of the plant, had turned into a raging torrent.

As we sat and had our lunch we watched in amazement as the floodwaters rose that fast that we quickly had to go and rescue cars and personal items before they were engulfed in the floodwaters. We laughed and joked about the rain earlier in the day, but now laughter had been replaced with shock and surprise.

The water engulfed all driveways, grassed areas, sheds, admin offices and soon galleries. In vain we attempted to sandbag doorways and roller doors but it was no use. The gallery sumps couldn’t keep up with the volume of water and eventually pumps and motors downstairs all went under water.

With nothing left to do we chose to evacuate the site, driving through rather deep water to make it to higher ground.

The following day upon our return to work you never have known that the plant had been inundated with water, except for the huge clean up that still continues a couple of weeks later.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Swiftwater Rescue Multi Agency Training Day

On the 9th March 2011 Twenty-one (21) Illawarra Emergency Service members participated in a Multi Agency Swiftwater Rescue training day. The activity was the first of its kind held at the Penrith Whitewater facility.

Members from attended the day;
· Police Rescue Squad - Illawarra
· NSW Ambulance Service – Illawarra
· State Emergency Service – Wollongong
· State Emergency Service – Kiama
· State Emergency Service – ISC Region

With not every agency having ‘Level 3 technicians’ the day proved very successful in sharing various rescue techniques, skills and knowledge that may be used in future operations together.

Some of the skills and techniques undertaken on the day were;
· Defensive and Offensive swimming
· Rescue rope work
· Live bait rescues
· Tensioned diagonal rescues
· Shallow water crossings
· Foot entrapment

The day concluded with all members participating in a free swim around the whitewater course. Feedback from all participants was very positive and rewarding. All Services voiced their approval and interest in future activities.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cyclone Yasi

On the 3rd Feb 2011 Cyclone Yasi impacted on FNQLD. This category 5 cyclone packed winds of up to 290km/hr. It crossed the coast at Mission Beach before moving inland. Some of the more effected areas included Tully and Cardwell where communities had houses destroyed, essential services cut and many crops were destroyed.

On the 4th Feb a taskforce of 100 NSW SES members flew out to assist the residents of FNQLD. Arriving in Cairns the first thing that hit me was the humidity. I’m one of those people who love the heat but the humidity was a real surprise. Our first night was in the Lakes Resort at Cairns. In between briefings and relaxing in the pool I managed to duck out and grab a local cache.

Bright an early the next morning we were on a bus heading to Tully and Cardwell. As we headed south the magnitude of the cyclone became evident. Banana crops were destroyed, massive advertising signs beside the highway were blown over like match sticks, houses and sheds randomly destroyed. Once in Tully the full extent was witnessed, massive trees were uprooted, nearly every house suffered some form of damage. Cane trains were piled up like mangled pieces of metal while power lines littered the roads. Yet amongst all of the carnage the locals and the Army went about cleaning up.

Further down the coast and we made our way into Cardwell. Most of the time this sleepy hollow is a picture postcard with the Pacific Ocean on one side of the road, with parks and a few shops dotting the highway. Many in our taskforce could draw on previous experience to explain the beauty that once was this place. Now it was a town near completely destroyed. A 3m storm surge and 200km/hr winds had reeked havoc here. The highway was blocked by a metre of sand on it. Houses and business’s had roofs lifted off and water inundation. Many homes were only shells with nothing left inside. Power lines, bus shelters, trees and furniture littered every road. But already there were signs of repair. Large power poles, transformers and heavy earth moving equipment were arriving in town.

The local RSL would be our base for the next few days and we quickly established a command post. What remained of the first day was spent doing recon, before any work could start a picture of the damage had to ascertained. I was fortunate enough to elevated to strike team leader of sector south. It was here that my sector would witness destruction on a mass scale. Sector South was the home of Hinchinbrook Mariner and the multi-million dollar homes.

With rain still falling we made our way into the field and were faced with scenes previously unseen before. Some residents had already started the massive clean up while other homes looked deserted. As we made our way around the streets words can’t describe some of the scenes. Multi million dollar mansions had been totally trashed, mud littered the floors of every house, cyclone roofs were holed like pin cushions, fenced and palm trees were flattened, which in itself was dangerous cause that meant the local crocodiles could roam freely.

It wasn’t long before we set eyes on the mariner and it was here that the full extent of damage was seen. The cyclone and storm surge had totally destroyed the mariner. Hundreds of boats were either on the bottom of the harbour, on top of other boats or washed up into residents’ yards. This was a scene unfathomable and unbelievable. The cost of peoples loss in this area was beyond comprehension. After the initial shock we continued about our business and by days end we had recon’d the whole area.

Our day’s adventure wasn’t over yet as our accommodation details had been revised and we now had to drive back to Innisfail. It was here that we finally got a bed for the night, in the local showground, specifically the horse pavilion. It certainly wasn’t the 5 star resort of the previous night but it was fitting to the situation we’d witnessed today.

The following day and subsequent 2 days were pretty much 3 days of standard storm damage callouts. The only difference being that every house in our southern sector was of the massive scale and we had very limited tools to undertake any repairs. My 7-team strike force shared 2 chainsaws, 2 ladders and 3 RSK’s amongst them, we didn’t have a hammer, nails or tilers batten. But we made the best of what we had and every resident was appreciative of the job we did. While the work wasn’t hard, it was hard working in the unfamiliar humidity.

As we navigated our way around the wealthy streets of Hinchinbrook Estate it was easy to see “what money can buy”. Some of the houses we visited were 3-storey, multiple bathroom and bedrooms, full size billiard tables, swimming pools and indoor spas were a common feature, then there was the water craft that adorned every house. This place was right out of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” and here we were helping fix their houses.

In the following days, heavy machinery started arriving at the mariner and the arduous task of recovering the damaged boats begun. Many of the boats were loaded onto semi trailers and carted around to the nearby dry-dock while various vessels did their bit to drag other boats back into the water. It’s a sight I wont forget for a long time to come.

Away from the mariner 2 of my strike teams worked their way through an acreage style estate where there had been mass tree job style damage. This was another unique experience as every tree had been stripped bare by the cyclonic winds. Trees that appeared to have survived a bushfire were in actual fact sticks left standing, leaves stripped by the cyclone.

By the end of our 5th day, many of our taskforce were looking forward to heading home. The heat had taken its toll on a few members and after driving back to Cairns, we were treated to a final night at the Lakes Resort.

Our adventure had one final twist to it. As we departed for Cairns airport we were informed that the wealthy mining magnate “Clive Palmer” had offered to fly us all back to Sydney on his personal jet as a sign of gratitude for the fantastic job we’d done in supporting the victims of Cyclone Yasi. What a great gesture it was and a very memorable flight.

To conclude I’d like to thank the guys of my strike force team who my job so much easier. You guys are the real heroes.