Australia’s Volunteer Firefighters Discover It Laborious to Pause, Even for Christmas

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SYDNEY, Australia – Lucy Baranowski, a volunteer firefighter, has taken a break in the last three weeks to catch one of the largest flames ever recorded in Australia fight . The smoke coughed them. She and her husband, also a fireman, are dead tired.

Friends had to step in to make sure that Santa Claus would visit their four children.

"We didn't have time for Christmas shopping or Christmas photos," she said. "It's like running a marathon for so many weeks in a row."

In one of the worst early fire seasons in Australia, 10 people have been killed so far, nearly 1,000 properties have been destroyed and millions of acres have been consumed. In order to counteract the danger and protect the communities, the country has relied on its largely voluntary fire brigade.

The volunteers, some of whom worked more than 12-hour shifts because they cut back on their annual vacation, say you get along with a combination of adrenaline and sense of duty towards your neighbors.

Given the physical and emotional strain on the thousands of unpaid firefighters, however, Australia faces the question of whether it can continue to rely on it Most reside in rural areas, about 50% make up 65 percent of the entire fire service.

In Australia, demands for compensation for firefighters have increased. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this was not an immediate goal and the fire chiefs had not asked for a change. He found that Australia relied on volunteers for many important tasks, including beach lifeguards.

Sandra Lunardi, Acting Managing Director of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, who coordinates fire-fighting efforts, said this would be difficult to implement a compensation system.

"Paying firefighters to be present in the number and locations required to respond quickly to bush fires" was a "big challenge in rural Australia, especially when those fires last longer and frequently are "Lunardi wrote by email.

Members of the Fire Brigade Employees Union, which represents firefighters in Australia, said at a press conference last week that it was "confusing" that the government expected volunteer firefighters to work for months without compensation.

The firefighters risk their lives in the face of the flames, which are getting bigger and more intense the hotter and drier the country gets. This danger was tragically illustrated last week when two firefighters who were fighting a fire in a city south-west of Sydney died in the overrun of their truck.

David Smart, captain of volunteer firefighters in the Kangaroo Valley, 100 miles south of Sydney, said his brigade was taking steps to meet the increased demands. The firemen were on shifts to avoid tiredness, he said, but the long days were still on them. And then there's the emotional trauma of seeing houses and scrub destroyed, he added.

"I think everyone is very stressed," he said. "People are tired. It's been going on for weeks. “

The burdens imposed on volunteer firefighters have been lighter in the past, many said. In recent years, fires have spread throughout the year, said Brad Kelly, deputy captain of the Ingleside Fire Brigade, north of Sydney, who acted against a fire on Monday.

"They were not just a large, continuous line of activity at all times," he said.

In a recent shift, the firefighters did not return home until 4 a.m. "If a house is hit, you won't go away," said Kelly.

woman. Baranowski, who comes from a family of firefighters, said: "We do it because we have to do it."

But the family's time out to fight the flames was a financial burden, she said. They only made it with the help of their local community, northwest of Sydney, who donated gifts and helped with shopping and household chores.

This community spirit became particularly clear when the two firefighters were killed last Thursday. Both have left young children behind and an online donation page for their families has raised over $ 230,000 or nearly $ 350,000 in Australian dollars.

In Balmoral, a coastal area of ​​the Sydney suburb where fires destroyed houses on Saturday, donations to the rural fire department filled the station and brought some firemen to tears.

"I haven't even done Christmas shopping for my daughter," said Andrew Johnstone in an interview with Nine News. "We tried so hard to save some people's houses and everything."

Prime Minister Morrison was criticized on Tuesday for his government's response to climate change and his decision to take a vacation in Hawaii when the fires raged, and announce that volunteer firefighters, who are also employees of the Federal government were given four weeks of paid leave to fight the fires.

"Today's announcement is about ensuring that our volunteer firefighters can continue to focus on the task at hand," he said in a statement. However, he acknowledged that the measure would be of little use to volunteers who were self-employed or who worked in the private sector.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese welcomed the move, but said he hadn't gone far enough. He urged the government to find ways to compensate the firefighters, perhaps through tax measures or one-off payments.

The firefighters agreed to take action, compensated or not, even under the expected conditions. Improve yourself over Christmas with some rain and cooler temperatures.

"Fire doesn't stop," said Mr. Kelly of the Ingleside Fire Brigade. "There is still work to be done."

Isabella Kwai reported from Sydney and Livia Albeck-Ripka from Melbourne, Australia.

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