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Ensuring firefighters are well-fed on Kangaroo Island

14 January 2020

Ensuring firefighters are well-fed on Kangaroo Island

For months, firefighters and emergency personnel have sacrificed their own time and personal safety to combat the spread of bushfires during this national crisis.

While we have seen the confronting images of towns engulfed in smoke and eerie red skies, walls of fire dwarfing fire trucks and the faces of those who have lost their lives, we can’t even begin to imagine the extreme conditions firefighters are working in.

Once a fire has been contained or burnt out in one area, firefighters move on to another, and then another. And so it has been for months.

Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES) teams are there to cater to our firefighters and other emergency services during their breaks from the frontline.

South Australia SAES Coordinator, Alan Stevens, heads up operations on Kangaroo Island where fires have destroyed more than half of the island, consuming the national park and extending into farmland.

While cooler weather over the weekend provided opportunities to build control lines, the situation on Kangaroo Island remains volatile. With a 150-kilometre-long fire edge to contend with and temperatures rising again this week, SA firefighters are facing the most challenging conditions in their history.

Taking a break from the frontline

At time of writing, around 400 firefighters are battling the blazes alongside 600 military personnel, as well as SES, police and paramedics. Working in 12-hour shifts they have been living in a tent city at Kingscote on the edge of the island’s airport.

Over 1,000 people have turned the paddock, stripped of its hay bales, into a dust bowl. Planes fly low over the camp as they head out to battle the fires from above and transport emergency workers to and from the island.

While the military have their own cooks, the SAES feeds firefighters and emergency personnel – that’s around 400 people a meal and as Alan puts it “an awful lot of bacon at breakfast!”

Members of SAES on Kangaroo Island

The long haul

The logistics of catering for hungry, exhausted firefighters on an island during a disaster has its challenges. Food and water must be replenished frequently.

New supplies arrive every three days, making a five-hour journey from Adelaide to the staging ground. Transporting goods also relies on the ferry service, which operates only twice a day and is in high demand.

“Because numbers have gone up considerably, as far as catering is concerned, we’re almost running a shuttle service with our portable freezer and fridge,” says Alan, who has been moving from one fire emergency to another since before Christmas.

Portable freezers and fridges are essential for storing the vast array of supplies that ensure those battling the blazes are well-nourished and hydrated.

While fatigue is ever-present and morale takes a constant hit, a decent meal, rest and extended breaks bring welcome relief. It helps keep spirits up for all those persisting through this unprecedented bushfire emergency.

As firefighters and emergency services continue to face unpredictable and dangerous conditions during the crisis, the SAES will continue to support them at multiple locations across the country.

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