The Cape'd Crusader

Friday, 3 Nov 2017

HANS Wilde’s passion for saving lives and communities sparked more than 15 years ago.

The 52-year-old started his fire-fighting career as a caretaker with the Dorunda Station in the late 1990s.

These days the Rural Fire Service Queensland Brigade Training and Support Officer (BTSO) uses his hard-earned expertise protecting far north Queensland.

His main role is planning and implementing multi-brigade training and fuel hazard mitigation exercises across the Rural Fire Cairns and Peninsula Area.

This means he supports about 3,000 volunteers across 125 brigades and they provide community defence across an area covering 220,000km (or 22 million hectares).

He is also the former second officer at Tinaroo Rural Fire Brigade where he volunteers  alongside “local legend” and mentor Les Green.

Reflecting on why he became a fire-fighter, Hans said he just wanted to make a "tangible difference” in life.

"I have witnessed the effects of wildfire on both land owners and the environment and it is not pretty,” he said.

“Sometimes it really tugs at your heart; there is nothing like being asked by a landowner, with tears welling up in his eyes, to save his last paddock of pasture because he’s going to lose everything and then succeeding in saving it.”

When it comes to fire and Australia’s eco system, there’s not a lot that Hans doesn’t know.

"Many flora species depend on fire for regeneration such as eucalypts and banksia,” he said.

"Fire also aids in the management of foreign pest species such as lantana, snake weed and invasive grasses that damage ecosystems.”
 
"Being able to use fire as an effective land management tool in a way that promotes the health of ecosystems is a valuable skill.”

Far north Queensland has an extremely diverse array of landscapes. The wet tropics feature pockets of wetlands, marshes and dense rainforest while the dry tropics are sparse, dry and most at risk of fire from September to January. The region also has pastoral and cropping land as well as undulating heathlands and mountainous areas.

“All of this combined with the sheer size of the area makes responding to wildfire quite challenging in some cases,” Hans said. "Help can be a long time coming.”

“However, our volunteers know their area and provide sound leadership and advice to crews responding from other brigade areas, area office staff are also there to lend advice and support.”

Communication is vital for firefighters, but Hans said it was not always reliable and the brigade members often had to think out of the square to over-come this hurdle.

“Comms can be fickle,” he said.

"As nice as it would be to have more UHF and VHF repeater towers erected in the region, the fact is they are not cheap and the areas are sparsely populated.”

“We do have access to, and deploy, portable relay cashes, a comms trailer, V-sat trailer and an OSU 701 Sierra for  prolonged campaign incidents. These do make all the difference."

Keeping communities safe is no mean feat with firefighters relying on local residents to take steps to protect and fire-proof their properties.

Sometimes, Hans said, it was really hard getting this message to everyone. He said unprepared residents risked their own lives made the jobs of rural firies extremely hard and distressing.

“One of the hardest parts of our job is responding to callouts where people have taken little to no steps to protect themselves and their property prior to the event,” Hans said.

"It is a terrible situation when you have to make the call that we will not commit our firefighters to defend a property that is not defendable and could quite possibly put our volunteers at risk.

“We persevere and keep putting the message out there via face to face interactions, school education programs and through the various media mediums and outlets.

While firefighting was tough, Hans said there were also plenty of upsides to the job.

"Engaging with the volunteers and members of the community are a highlight” he said.

“The folks are generally fantastic to work with - they are grateful for the support I give and they are eager to give back to their communities. They are all different with a diverse range of issues and challenges facing them.

“They are the salt of the earth people.”
 
Hans said he really enjoyed teaching people about fires and fire safety.

“We need to lay the ground work with theory but the penny drops and they get it during the practical live fire exercises,” he said.

"Education and community engagement have a trickle on effect and people become aware of their role in regard to fire safety in their communities."
 

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