CFA moves to prevent fungus infections from firewood

Last year Glenaladale CFA Captain Rick O’Haire encouraged his long term friend John Hine to share his story.


A simple facemask can protect against Cryptococcal

In June 2016 John contracted the Cryptococcal fungal infection after cutting Redgum firewood at this farm in Woodglen. Cryptococcal Fungus is so uncommon that on average between 6 to 10 people are diagnosed with this rare fungal infection in Australia every year. This particular fungus can generally be found in Redgum, Bluegum, and Blackwood and probably many other timbers and soils.

Initially it was feared John had cancer, but upon further inspection it was discovered he had in fact inhaled the fungus which spreads via the spinal cord to the brain.

John experienced symptoms similar to flu like symptoms; fevers, headaches, muscles aches, tiredness. John has been through a health battle he never saw coming, and certainly had never heard of Cryptococcal until his diagnosis.

John’s story came out in May 2017, when he and Rick realised they could help prevent others from catching the fungal infection from cutting up firewood. A safety caution went to the local CFA District 11 (East Gippsland) Health Safety and Welfare Committee meeting and from there to CFA Headquarters.

Operations Manager for Wildfire Planning and Forest Industry Brigades, Gary Weir says, “Brigades are responding to jobs all the time that require the use of chainsaws and handling timber.”

“CFA is pleased that our members are coming forward with safety precautions especially at a local level, ensuring that we are learning from people like John Hine, and creating a safer CFA. Because of people like John, the CFA standard will be changed for all members to wear P2 facemasks as part of the standard firefighting protective clothing.”

Rick O’Haire wants others to know that a simple facemask can prevent catching this fungus.

“John is Glenaladale Brigade’s fire truck driver, and a healthy fit man. It really shocked him, and his friends and family when he caught this fungus. We saw John hit rock bottom, and it’s taken a lot of John’s energy to get through the treatment.”

“Thankfully we can all happily say he’s back to driving our tanker again, he even managed to save a few tractors in a shed fire late last year. We’re all happy he’s back to full health now.”

John says he now carries facemasks everywhere because handling timber is a daily practice on the farm.

 “It’s that realisation that makes you see, no one is invincible. But it’s certainly preventable.”

“I was relieved to hear that my story has been reaching others, and hopefully preventing more cases like mine.”

Author: Louise Haughton