Former Rural Fire Service volunteer urges locals to have clothes that are up for the fight, and to formulate a bushfire survival plan for their household

EXIT STRATEGY: Bruce Talbot said locals near bushland should think about the route they'd take if fleeing a bushfire. Picture: David Stewart
EXIT STRATEGY: Bruce Talbot said locals near bushland should think about the route they'd take if fleeing a bushfire. Picture: David Stewart

IT'S an image that seems to recur in newspapers every summer.

A young man wearing a singlet, shorts and thongs standing on the roof of his family's home hosing down the tiles and gutters as a bushfire approaches.

It's an image that often elicits empathy.

But for retired RFS veteran Bruce Talbot the image epitomizes just how inadequately equipped and prepared many people are in the face of an advancing firestorm.

Mr Talbot, of Bonnells Bay, served with the Yarramalong Rural Fire Brigade for 15 years, and worked in occupational health and safety management for 30.

He hopes that if there's one positive thing to emerge from the otherwise horrendous bushfires this summer, it's a change in attitude.

"That idea that 'I live in suburbia so it can't happen to me'... that should be a thing of the past now," he said.

He's urging everyone to visit the RFS website, download a bushfire survival plan, and take 20 minutes to work through the document with their family.

Mr Talbot said even the fittest and most resilient person would be rendered ineffective if not dressed for the fight. The young man with the hose on the roof might get away with wearing a singlet, shorts and thongs while a bushfire is a distant threat. But once a blaze gets close, "there's no mercy", Mr Talbot said.

"You've got to look at how the RFS dress their volunteers in the field," he said.

They wear loose-fitting, heavy cotton jackets and pants impregnated with fire-retardant material, and heavy duty ankle-length lace-up boots.

"They're things that don't ignite or melt," he said.

Locals aren't expected to have an RFS uniform at the ready in their wardrobe. But if they choose to stay and defend their property as a bushfire approaches, they can give themselves a fighting chance.

"My first choice would be to wear heavy-duty cotton overalls, otherwise go for all-cotton jeans and long-sleeved cotton shirts, and nothing with man-made materials in it [such as nylon]," he said.

Add sturdy footwear, a hat of some kind, and don a P2 face mask, available from hardware stores.

"If you don't have a mask, then improvise and use a bandana to help protect you from inhaling toxic smoke and hot air and scorching your throat and lungs.

"And eye protection is essential. Two things that can happen in a bushfire which inhibit your ability to function is to have smoke sting your eyes and to have red hot cinders get into your eyes," Mr Talbot said.

Protective goggles should be part of your home bushfire readiness gear, he said.

A bushfire survival plan provides certainty in the chaos of an approaching firestorm

HARD COPY: Bruce Talbot with the documented plan that he and wife Kathy will implement if fire threatens their Bonnells Bay neighbourhood. Go to the RFS website to formulate your plan. Picture: David Stewart

HARD COPY: Bruce Talbot with the documented plan that he and wife Kathy will implement if fire threatens their Bonnells Bay neighbourhood. Go to the RFS website to formulate your plan. Picture: David Stewart

BRUCE Talbot and wife Kathy know exactly what they'll do in the event of a firestorm approaching their Bonnells Bay home.

The couple has long had a bushfire emergency plan (also known as a bushfire survival plan).

"We know what we're going to take with us, and we know where we're going and how we'll get there," Mr Talbot, a former RFS volunteer said.

"We figure it will take us between 30 and 45 minutes to pack up and leave."

The template for bushfire survival plans is available on the NSW Rural Fire Service website, rfs.nsw.gov.au.

The template helps residents to make decisions such as whether to stay and defend their home, or to leave; when to leave; where to go; and what route to take. It also provided valuable checklists on what to take, and backup plans.

Best of all, having a hard copy of a completed bushfire survival plan enables a household to calmly take decisive action while under the stress of an emergency.

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