As the Central Coast breathes a collective sigh of relief with the Gospers Mountain and Three Mile fires no longer posing a threat to the region, brave local Rural Fire Service volunteers continue to battle blazes in other parts of the state.
Central Coast Rural Fire Service District Superintendent, Viki Campbell, who is the 2020 Australia Day Ambassador for the Coast, said in an exclusive interview with Central Coast Newspapers that what might happen over the rest of the summer was “anybody’s guess”.
“We’ve had a little bit of rain here in recent weeks, but we still have a couple of months to go, at least,” she said.
“These days, it’s not unusual to see the fire season extend into March or even April.”
“We are going to maintain vigilance for the rest of the season.
“Our strategy has been to jump on things early and this has worked well.”
Beginning her career as a volunteer with the RFS in 1990, Campbell gained an interest in first aid and entered the Ambulance Service, as it was then, as a career path in 1994.
“I stayed with Ambulance for close to 20 years, while also still volunteering as a firefighter,” she said.
“You could say I was living a double life in those days.”
When a management role came up at the RFS, Campbell was a natural choice and she “made the leap” in changing her career, eventually becoming regional superintendent, assuming responsibility for bush fire risk management across the Central Coast and Lake Macquarie Local Government areas.
She oversees 57 brigades, 20 staff and thousands of volunteers.
“We have 2,300 volunteers and they are absolutely amazing,” she said.
“They have really stood up this season.
“We started dispatching crews to other parts of the state in mid-August last year, and as the fires worked their way down the Coast, we have sent crews to Port Macquarie, Forster, Singleton and the Lower Hunter, and even the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury.
“We have had just under 2,000 deployments outside the area this season and we are still sending crews to southern NSW.”
Locally, Campbell said volunteers worked “around the clock” as several blazes threatened the region from September to December, 2019.
“I have never seen fire behavior like I have seen this season.” she said.
“The fires have been moving fast and hard.”
While she said RFS volunteers felt “immense pride” in what they had achieved alongside colleagues from Fire and Rescue NSW and National Parks and Wildlife Forestry staff, she said there was a great deal of fatigue and a need for debriefing in many cases.
“These firefighters have seen some horrendous scenes and they are absolute heroes,” she said.
“But the fire fronts have been so severe that they haven’t been able to save every house and that is devastating for firefighters.”
Campbell praised the spirit of communities and support agencies throughout the fire season to date.
“Despite the loss and grief, which has been substantial, there has also been an outpouring of love, she said.”
Campbell said there had been a huge peak in interest in membership in the RFS in the wake of the fires.
“It’s a very dangerous business,” she said.
“You don’t just jump straight onto a fire truck.
“There is quite a process involved in training.
“We will probably retain around a third of those who have expressed interest, but that’s OK.”
Campbell said she was approached to be Australia Day Ambassador several weeks before the event, but could not confirm her participation until just days before, as she had to wait to see the state of the fires before she could declare herself available.
“It was an absolute honour to be asked and the day itself was fantastic,” she said.
“It was great to be able to get out there and talk to people, hear their stories.”
Video interview, Feb 4
Viki Campbell, Central Coast Rural Fire Service District Superintendent