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Tarra Group Officer Wight talks risk
From the Gippsland coast to the Strzeleckis with Yarram as the employment centre; from communities of sea changers and retirees to the summer influx of holiday makers, the Tarra Group area is one of contrasts.
By Leith Hillard
“The challenges are chalk and cheese too, from last year,” said Group Officer and Woodside member Robert Wight. “In 2015, the dams were empty and we were heading into November’s Whitelaws Track fire. This year it’s an oasis although we can have dryness in one part of our group when it’s wet at the other end.
“Whitelaws Track was a burn-off that got out of control and was 48 hours in difficult terrain. Crews were magnificent even though we had some communications difficulties.
“We have the Mullungdung [Nature Conservation Reserve] to our east and pine and blue gum plantations spread throughout our area. Agriculturally it’s dairy along with sheep and beef so there’s also the odd haystack fire.
“Only two of our brigades have two appliances but it’s hard to ask our communities to dig too deep. Being a strong dairying area, money is pretty tight at the moment.
“Job security is also a big issue and that challenges daytime turnouts, but Port Albert, Jack River and Devon North have all managed to pick up some new members which is helping.”
The group has an attitude of being ready for anything. This was demonstrated in their joint exercise with Stradbroke Group which covered how to approach hybrid cars in motor vehicle accidents and how to isolate power on solar panels as well as the regular burnover drill.
While this is Robert’s first term as group officer, he praised the group management team which has “a lot of depth. We’re also very lucky to have four new young and very enthusiastic captains and there’s a mix of youth and experience across the group generally.”
Robert is determined that members enjoy their volunteering.
“When we come together on a job or for training,” he said, “it’s important people enjoy each other’s company and don’t feel obligated to come.
“When you go through dry farming conditions, people can withdraw into themselves so it’s especially important to look out for each other.
“About four years ago, we found that brigades were getting distant from each other and members on strike teams were strangers.
“We started rotating group training every two months around brigades. The host brigade will lay on a barbecue and create and manage the night’s training which becomes a social night.
“It really spurs brigades on. We’ve had guest speakers like fire investigators and 60 to 70 people for each event. We’re all getting to know each other and no brigade is left out.
“It’s been an absolute positive move.”