Volunteer firefighters Wade Bloffwitch and Stacey Petterson walk past the brigade’s only tanker. (ABC News: Tom Joyner)
The volunteer-run fire brigade in one of Australia’s most remote towns says an upgrade of its capacity and resources is “badly needed” to protect the community.
As a bushfire service, the Wiluna Town Bush Fire Brigade has only one 1,500-litre tanker at its disposal, and is unequipped to respond to structural fires, including burning homes.
The brigade’s captain, Wade Bloffwitch, said the town’s population was at “high risk” without adequate resources and was in desperate need of an upgrade.
“The unique position that Wiluna is in, we’re a small town located many hundreds of kilometres from backup, and we also have a problem in the winter months where we can be completely cut off via road,” Mr Bloffwitch said.
“So when we do have something in Wiluna, backup’s a long way away. But we could also not get backup here, and we’ve certainly had that happen since I’ve been here.”
Mr Bloffwitch said the brigade was only technically equipped to tackle bushfires in grassy areas, not provide emergency response to residential areas in the town.
Wiluna is a small town located hundreds of kilometres from backup, and can be cut off by road during the wet winter months. (ABC News: Tom Joyner)
In a sparsely populated shire area stretching across some 180,000 square kilometres and with few of the roads sealed, the brigade was in dire need of upgrade.
“What we don’t currently have is capacity to undertake structural firefighting,” Mr Bloffwitch said.
“We also have no ability to provide road crash rescue support or hazardous materials incident response.
“The loss of a single house up here could impact the community greatly and could displace a lot more people than if the same house burned down in the city.”
‘You’re there like a role model’
The brigade’s only current Indigenous volunteer, Stacey Petterson, signed up after her own home burned down 13 years ago.
“I think it was about 2005 I lost my house. We called the local fire brigade but they never had enough water supply,” Ms Petterson said.
“It was just too long a wait, and yeah we lost everything in our house.
“I felt a bit gutted but I think that’s one of the reasons why I decided to be a volunteer fire brigade person because I know how hard it is to try and save your house and your belongings.”
Stacey Petterson says she hopes more Indigenous people volunteer at the brigade. (ABC News: Tom Joyner)
Ms Petterson, who is also a local councillor and heavily involved in other community work, said she hoped other Indigenous people volunteered too.
“It’s quite strange because you would think there’s more local Indigenous mob that’ll come put their hand up and volunteer,” she said.
“People look up to you, you’re there like a role model kind of thing.
“Come on all you Martu mob in Wiluna, come and join up. Can’t be just me doing the job for all of you.”
Shire in talks to increase capacity
Wiluna Shire chief executive Colin Bastow said he had written to the State Government requesting more resources and an upgrade for the fire brigade, but is yet to hear back.
“I guess the issue with a vast, vast area that the shire of Wiluna is in, it’s difficult to send people too far away with only a limited water supply,” Mr Bastow said.
“In town there’s not the capacity or the training for structural fires, but there’s probably a much bigger need to cover that.”
Mr Bloffwitch hoped for a second tanker, with greater capacity to carry more water during emergencies.
“We’ve got a town with a significant amount of residential population, which I would consider high risk,” he said.
“The initial plan is that we get a second appliance, which is badly needed here, and an upgrade for us to start to look at urban defensive, urban offensive firefighting for structure fires.”
In a statement, Department of Fire and Emergency Services chief superintendent country north Murray Bawden said the delivery of frontline across the state was based on the level of risk posed in individual communities.
“As a first step, DFES recommended the Shire of Wiluna apply for a 3.4 Urban Tanker through the Local Government Grants Scheme,” Mr Bawden said.