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Firefighting in ‘unprecedented’ times

A Filipino firefighter and community leaders from Central Queensland share the importance of education in mitigating bushfires, the power of community in rebuilding lives, and the value of recognising the knowledge of Indigenous elders in building resilience against natural disasters.

When he’s not fighting fires, Queenslander Joseph Salvador manages a feedlot in Proston, thirty minutes north-west of Brisbane. He is also a manager of a feedlot on Proston, thirty minutes north-west of Brisbane.

In the last two weeks, Mr Salvador fought some of the worst bushfires ever recorded in the history of the state.

And with his feedlot nearly catching fire this week, he knows all too well the perils that Queensland residents and farmers will further face should extreme dry conditions continue.

“A few weeks ago, we attended to a fire incident in Hivesville. We defended the exposure of about 20 houses that were under threat.”

“The biggest problem was that there was no fire hydrant there and there was nowhere else to get water. We were lucky that the Wondai fire team was also there and gave us another 2,000 litres of water,” Mr Salvador told SBS Filipino.

“We haven’t had rain for nearly two years now. And that’s one of the reasons why we are experiencing fires that we haven’t seen before.”

Calls for immediate action on climate change

Five former Australian fire chiefs met with the media on Thursday to appeal to the government to take immediate action “to protect people from climate change-driven extreme weather events.”

“I am here to support my colleagues, but more importantly, I am here for my children and grandchildren because I am fundamentally concerned about the impact and damage coming from climate change,” former QFES Commissioner Lee Johnson said.

Mr Johnson said that in his forty years of experience as fire commissioner he cannot recall a fire season in Queensland that has destroyed so much property.

Greg Mullins, former NSW Rescue and Fire Commissioner, called on the federal government to “take emergency measures to equip our firefighters and emergency services.”

“We knew a bushfire crisis was coming. We asked to see the Prime Minister to warn what was coming. We believe that our serving colleagues are constrained as we were when we were employed as fire commissioners,” Mr Mullins said.

Diverse and intergenerational problem-solving

Meanwhile, in Rockhampton, community organisations understand the urgency of the situation in the nearby affected town of Yeppoon. Community leaders say it is important to wait for the appropriate time to provide support so as not to disrupt the delivery of priority service.  

Yeppoon is part of the Livingston Shire Council in Central Queensland and was the hardest hit in the recent bushfire that has decimated over 6,000 hectares of land in the area since the fires broke on Saturday.   

Linda Esguerra, Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese in Rockhampton, said they have started to mobilise their volunteers to collect donations and provide counselling to fire victims.

“We have a very strong diverse group here like the Multicultural Australia group, the Central Queensland Filipino group, and the Islamic Society of Queensland.”

“There is an organised group so that it doesn’t [go] haywire and we are able to provide and prepare for anything untoward,” Ms Esguerra told SBS Filipino.

Dawn Hay, president of the Central Queensland Multicultural Association Inc. CQMA), told SBS Filipino that their organisation is currently on standby to provide assistance to migrant families who need help in processing insurance claims or legal matters that may have been caused by the fires.

She said they understand that many of the migrant families are unfamiliar in navigating the insurance system in Australia.

Educational sessions on disaster planning and preparedness

CQMA provides employment and training assistance to migrant communities in Central Queensland which includes education on disaster planning and preparedness.

 Ms Hay is aware that many of their clients may not be used to dry weather conditions and would, therefore, be inexperienced in preparing for a bushfire emergency.

“We run free educational sessions about understanding the Australian language when referring to bushfire, preparing for disaster, and understanding the communication pathway they need to take if they need assistance.”

When asked how a community prepares for what has been called an ‘unprecedented’ disaster, Ms Hay said that it is pivotal to recognise the knowledge of Indigenous elders in understanding the land and building resilience against natural disasters.

“I’m a rural person, I know what it’s like to be able to identify [the] change in the weather patterns and understand what the repercussions of those changes are. I do believe that more older people, including our indigenous elders, [can teach] about the land, making a piece of land safe, and understanding what protocols to follow to [keep] their family safe.”

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