firecrewsNSW_4413Leongatha CFA volunteers Greg Clifford, Nathan Hawkins, Scott Cameron and Shaun O’Keefe wait in the shade of their truck for a call out.

CFA VOLUNTEERS from Region 9, which included members from Leongatha, Tarwin Lower, Foster and Toora fire brigades, returned home on Saturday night after a long week helping the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Twenty-five volunteers from Region 9 attended, with trucks from Leongatha, Welshpool, Warragul, Berrys Creek and Westbury. Two members from Leongatha brigade, Nathan Hawkins, who was on his first interstate strike team call-up and Shaun O’Keeffe, flew into Sydney on Tuesday, while First Lieutenant Scott Cameron and Greg Clifford drove the tanker up on Monday. The crews from Region 9 were based in Penrith as Rapid Response Reserve Units. “We were based in Penrith on the first day when it was expected to be that really hot, windy, bad day,” Scott said. “We weren’t needed in the end, so we made our way to Lake MacQuarrie – that was about 2.5 hours away so by the time we got there, it was pretty close to some houses. “We basically jumped out of the truck and put the hoses out right away.” The crews worked on the hard, tiring, dirty but essential work, blacking out as the day went on. “It felt like we didn’t do that much, but you’ve got to give credit to the NSWRFS. They planned for the worst and having us there in case worked very well,” Scott said. “We had all been keeping an eye on what was going on (before the request for support crews was handed down from CFA), and when we got the call up, we just put out a pager to ask who was free or able to help. “Many of us thought it was a good chance for us to help out. “A lot of these guys [NSW fire fighters] came down to help us out, not just with Black Saturday, but Hotham and other incidents, so it was a chance to return the favour. “It was great that our employers and families allowed us to take a week off work to go and help out.” While Scott agreed families were often concerned, he said it was great to be part of a well-trained outfit. “It can be full on and dangerous work, but we just wanted to help. “There were firefighters from every state bar Western Australia; there were more South Australians there than CFA members. “And while it’s hard to say goodbye to your wife and kids, in this day and age, with all the technology available, we’d just send out a few messages and on Facebook and let people know where we were, what we were doing. “One of the best parts about helping out though was even though we were driving around NSW in Victorian CFA trucks, people would pull over for us, give us the thumbs up, kids were waving and clapping hands. “They were obviously pretty pleased and relieved to see that we were up there and helping out.” Leongatha brigade captain Tristan Morton-Pederson was pleased his members were returned safe. “Five days off work and up in New South Wales can be a big ask, but a few guys were keened to go as the NSWFS has often helped us out,” he said. “While there can be a lot of waiting, it’s fortunate our guys were not needed. “For those on the ground it can be frustrating, to get there and ‘do nothing’, but ultimately that’s what we want. “The more we can guarantee to get our members back home and safe the better. “That’s one thing the CFA has been working on, an emphasis on being prepared – it’s no good having resources two hours away when the fire’s now.” While the CFA crews are back home, having been thanked for their services by the commissioners of both states at the airports, and the Leongatha tanker driven home by two Ruby volunteers, there is every possibility crews will be needed again before summer is out. Given the fires are still going in rough terrain and could smoulder for months, Capt Morton-Pederson warned about getting complacent. For more information on the Leongatha CFA brigade, the work done in New South Wales and local conditions, search Leongatha Fire Brigade on Facebook or Twitter.