Gone fishin’, gone firefightin’

The fire danger index was low and Bonegilla Captain Brian Church headed out with his friend Dick Osmand at 6am to fish on Lake Hume.


Incident: Bonegilla grass and scrub

Date: Wednesday 22 February

District 24

The pair had filleted their 30 redfin at Churchy’s house and just put a pot of coffee on the table when a call came in from a neighbour. She had received a panicked call from a friend who was capsizing on the lake. A strong gust of wind had spun their four-metre craft around to face backwards into the waves which then swept over and engulfed the vessel.

Brian told his neighbour to call Triple Zero while he and Dick shot down to the lake and jumped back into Churchy’s 4.9-metre MakoCraft, Nemo 2.

“We boated over to the Ebden boat ramp,” said Brian, “and picked up an ambo. The capsize was about 1.5 kilometres from us and we could just see the white hull. It wasn’t too choppy and we got there and found two adults in life jackets clinging to the hull. They were getting pretty tired – they’d been in the water for about 40 minutes by then.”

The vessel was hanging perpendicular in about 60-feet of water according to the depth sounder on Nemo 2, with a water temperature of 24.5 degrees.

“We lifted the woman then the man in and were going to tow their boat,” continued Brian, “but we saw a storm coming. It came out of nowhere with some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen around here; cold rain. Lightning was cracking into the water around us.

“We got back to shore about 300 metres away and looked back and could see the storm about the size of a footy field right where we’d been.”

On the way in, however, Brian’s pager went off for a fire at Mahers Hill just above the Ebden Reservoir. He could see the fire up on the relatively-inaccessible hill in Bonegilla brigade territory which causes them so much trouble. The initial fire he saw was about 10-foot round but, whipped up by strong winds, it was four times larger by the time they reached shore.

“I had the fire radio with me,” said Brian, “and called for aerial support and Make tankers 10. VicPol and AV were at the Ebden boat ramp and so were the media to report on the rescue. The passengers were helped off my boat and I ran the fire from the boat ramp.”

In shorts and Crocs.

“I had to stay on VicFire and talk to our trucks that way. The media heard me talking and spun their cameras around and started filming the fire.

“Because of the inaccessibility, the Bomber 360 did four drops and that was 90 per cent of the job done. The Wodonga Group FCV arrived on scene and Alex Todd took over the job from me. They ran hoses down the hill to the fire and it was kept to about two hectares.”

An advice message was sent out. Some of the requested tankers were not able to respond because Tallangatta, Talgarno and Bethanga all got lightning-start fires of their own, but there were six trucks on the hill.

But Brian’s work was not done. He and Dick again headed out in Nemo 2 alongside an SES vessel to tow the capsized craft. Brian jumped in and tied a rope to the boat and around it which rolled it back over. The rescued craft was towed three-quarters of a kilometre to shore where it was winched onto its trailer, then it was back out again to recover every last piece of gear – fishing lures, battery box, torches and sundry items.

The reward for a day’s emergency response? Redfin for dinner.

“The people from the boat came to my place the next day and dropped off a bag of chocolates,” said Brian, “but I don’t expect anything. I enjoy doing all this sort of stuff.

“It was quite an exciting day, but I should have had my fishing rod in the water while I was being the incident controller.”

Note: Bonegilla Fire Brigade shares its building with the Lake Hume Coast Guard.

Many thanks to David Brown for the action photos.

Author: Leith Hillard