Moruya SES a rock in Eurobodalla Shire’s fire storm

The unit has ramped up cleaning, health and safety protocols, unit deputy commander Lloyd Jones said.

Weekly meetings and training are on hold.

Mr Jones said non-urgent jobs would be attended to on a “needs” basis and SES would support NSW Health where necessary.

The unit has supported many government departments since the bushfire crisis began in November 2019.

Volunteers cut trees, provided generators to dialysis patients, gave first aid and helped at evacuation centres.

They doorknocked before high-risk days. They pitched tents for RFS volunteers.

Meanwhile, the work they are highly trained for kept coming, including extricating the bodies of two people killed in a highway crash at Bodalla.

They worked around the clock, even when their own homes were under threat.

Most members are based in Moruya, however, three base their truck at Mossy Point. They evacuated to the Tomakin headland on the horrific morning of New Year’s Eve.

Training prepared senior rescuers Jeff McMahon and Martin Ransom, and logistics officer Darrum Obst, as best it could, for that dreaded day.

They stocked the truck with food, water, woolen blankets and masks the night before.

When they received the 6am RFS text message, they jumped into their truck and tooted its horn, urging residents to wake up and head for the beach.

Earlier that morning, fire had killed Colin Burns, 72, who was found in his car near Belowra, and a 71-year-old man found in a burnt-out property at Nerrigundah.

Flames were destroying homes and bush west of Tomakin at Mogo, north at Rosedale and south at Broulee.

The SES team set up at an evacuation point at Tomakin headland and evacuees from Mogo, Rosedale, Guerilla Bay and Mossy Point flooded in.

The team organised procedures others might not think about in a crisis. They set up parking so drivers could exit easily if they needed to quickly escape.

They asked everyone to fill buckets with sea water, and to place them around cars and caravans, ready to extinguish ember attacks and spot fires.

They organised a volunteer “team” to respond to emergencies, with several off-duty nurses and a Marine Rescue member helping plan a potential evacuation by sea.

Mr Ransom said evacuees were stressed.

“Some were becoming upset,” he said.

The team realised many had no food or shelter.

Tomakin Sports & Social Club CEO, Glen Rice, agreed to re-open the club and feed evacuees for free and SES delivered the message, Mr Ransom said.

Staff at the club kept look-out at night for ember attacks.

Evacuees had also gathered at the boat ramp, and SES volunteers kept people informed and identified anyone with special needs.

Mr Ransom said the manager of Barlings Beach Holiday Park asked for the crew’s help, as he had 750 residents and visitors, some of whom were agitated.

The team arrived and asked people to be calm, cooperate and follow the manager’s directions.

“This drive-through was greeted with applause and it became apparent the mere presence of SES had a positive effect,” Mr Ransom said.

With no way of calling Triple 0, and no other emergency services around, the SES crew’s flashing lights were on at all times.

The crew’s first aid-training was put to test in several situations, even when the fire was at its peak.

Mr Ransom said a man slipped and fell through a glass window at his Tomakin property and had serious lacerations to his hand and arm, including an arterial cut.

The casualty’s partner drove the man to the SES truck, and Mr McMahon and three nurses applied first aid.

They called an ambulance using the state operations radio channel.

“State operations could not give an ETA, given the fires, but provided support via the radio,” Mr Ransom said.

As if that incident wasn’t urgent enough, Mr Ransom heard “house fire!”

He radioed for firefighters, but knew help might not arrive immediately.

“At first appearance it looked like the fire outside the property had entered the house,” he said.

“After closer inspection, it was only burning up against the house wall, window and attached fence.

“Residents and visitors managed to extinguish the fire with hoses and buckets.”

The crew also helped a Mogo resident, who told them his boss was trapped by fire in a building.

The SES team alert state operations and police were sent.

There were simpler tasks, such as breaking a car window to retrieve someone’s keys. Mr McMahon, an ex-veterinarian, checked on a horse.

The trio was also called to a night rescue and continued to brief evacuees at staging areas. Fuel stations and roads were closed and power and telecommunications down.

When Mr Ransom and Mr McMahon were called to Moruya SES headquarters at Yarragee Rd for a briefing, Mr Obst discussed egress routes for a safe evacuation.

Three weeks later, on January 23, fire swept up to the road, burning some buildings near the HQ.

The Moruya SES open day was cancelled in early April, dashing recruitment hopes.

The unit hopes more members will join when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

This article was originally published in the Batemans Bay Post and has been republished with permission. Please view the original article here

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