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Walking the talk on mine fires
By bus train or foot, Peter Bullen isn’t stopping at public transport to help to keep the community informed about the Hazelwood open cut mine fire.
Peter is one of 25 Community Liaison Officers (CLO) who spends 12 hours every day visiting local shopping centres, RSLs, bowls clubs, primary schools, and patrolling trains to help answer questions and listen to concerns from the public.
“My role is to get out among the community and find out how they’re feeling about the mine fire, how they’re coping with the smoke and ask them if they have any issues,” Peter said.
“By giving people information and finding solutions to their problems, it empowers them to take responsibility and enables them to look after themselves.”
Since the start of the fire, CLOs have had more than 21,000 conversations with members of the public through 200 organised activities, including door-knocking sessions and mobile information buses.
“We’ve listened to calls from the community for more information, and we’ve been working hard to target more people by visiting popular meeting points, such as local markets, festivals, concerts and even the local pub,” Peter said.
Over the past few weeks, teams of CLOs have pounded the pavement in Morwell, Hazelwood North, Moe, Taralgon, Boolarra and Churchill. The teams typically include about six staff members from a number of agencies such as CFA, MFB, and EPA.
“The role has been challenging but I’ve found it really rewarding – people tell us how they appreciate our presence and overall the feedback has been really positive,” Peter said.
“We’ve been using linescan maps to show people how we are fighting the fire and explain what is being done, and people have been thanking us for what we’re doing.”
In another effort to help the community, CFA has delivered seven new vacuums with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air filtration) filters to organisations around Morwell for loan, after it was recommended people should avoid the household chore unless their vacuum has the specialised feature.
“We’ve been able to tell people about the vacuums and how they can loan them – they’ve been happy and really well received by the community,” Peter said.
On an average shift, Peter estimates he talks to between 150-200 people and says the service is helping to build confidence in the fire services.
“It’s a long day on your feet and it is tiring at times but you go home feeling like you’ve achieved something worthwhile and you’ve provided information so people can make informed decisions to better protect themselves,” he said.