January 2013 and Coonabarabran, in northwest NSW, experienced the worst bush fires on record. Officially declared a catastrophe by insurers, the blaze burnt through 55,000 hectares of bushland, destroyed 53 homes and over 100 other farm buildings and decimated people’s lives.
Active Air was called to provide temporary air conditioning and power distribution to the camp sites set up for sleeping reclines, mobile command centres and the media centre for the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS).
We received the call at 7:00am Saturday morning and immediately responded. We assembled our crew and started loading two semitrailers full with equipment. While loading the semis, two vehicles went ahead to meet the clients and contractors, inspect the site and formulate a plan to ensure we’d get the site operational as efficiently as possible.
Arriving in Coonabarabran was arriving at ground zero of a natural disaster. The RSF had been working through the night; every hotel, motel and campsite was full, schools and racecourses had been turned into campsites. Fleets of water-bombing helicopters and planes were constantly flying overhead, all emergency services, media, and contractors like us were arriving in droves. People had already lost their homes and farms, others were evacuated and awaited news.
In spite of the disastrous circumstance the overriding atmosphere was one of incredible community spirit with everyone genuinely doing whatever they could to help.
Air Conditioning and Power to Three Locations
Our job was to provide air conditioning and power to three locations:
- The racecourse, which was the main campsite for the RFS both for eating and sleeping as well as for trucks and equipment.
- Mobile Command and Media Centre, located in the town centre.
- Coonabarabran Airfield, for the sleeping quarters and command centres for the pilots
50+ Temporary Structures
Arriving on site a couple of hours earlier than our trucks carrying the equipment, we were well prepared by the time they arrived late Saturday afternoon. The cooperation onsite and the diligent, purposeful attitudes and the generosity of everyone involved made an otherwise challenging and difficult installation very rewarding.
Taking advantage of the cooler night time conditions and the availability of the forklifts on site, we worked well into the early hours of the morning and made exceptional progress on the installation having finished the RFS Mobile Command Centre and Media Centre and positioned all the equipment for the racecourse site. Sleeping briefly on donated stretchers, we woke at dawn as the RFS suited up ready to head out and battle the 120+ fires that were still raging.
With the progress made the previous night, we were in great shape for the day. Although the temperatures were extremely high, residents and local businesses selflessly took to coming to the worksite continuously with food and drinks, allowing us to press on.
It was the end of Day 2 and the site was operational. However, as the fires continued to spread uncontrollably, the size of the job grew. More equipment was mobilised from Sydney and by the time the Prime Minister inspected the site on Day 3, all extra equipment had been delivered and installed and the site was fully functioning.
Our team takes pride in every job site that we are involved in. This site however, was something more. To be part of the rural community banding together during a natural disaster and to work with the selfless men and women of the RFS during a massive logistical operation was a true honour and a humbling experience.
Congratulations to the RFS for getting the fire under control with no loss of life and thank you to everyone who assisted us with our installation.