The shared challenge of the devastating NSW fires

In the face of on-going drought and the NSW fires, IPWEA NSW members have risen to the enormous challenges to help respond to this national scale natural disaster. We congratulate all who have given so much to help their communities during this traumatic period.
 
We share our deepest condolences for those who have lost loved ones and we thank those agencies and volunteers involved on the frontline and behind the scenes, especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice trying to protect their communities.
 
We always knew the IPWEA NSW family was a strong united force dedicated to serving our communities. The adversity of the on-going drought and recent fires has seen this bond rise to an extraordinary level.
 
When we attended the IPWEA NSW State conference at the beginning of November, members were drawn away by the on-going and new fire activity. Some were prevented from returning home due to fires over the Pacific Highway. As the photos of the burnt landscape and infrastructure unfolded, we extended our support to our mates on the north coast.
 
At the end of November, the fires extended to the north & south of Sydney, and in the lower Shoalhaven. Shortly after, lightning from dry storms and the ridiculous actions of a few individuals, saw the extent of fire in the landscape extend along most of the great dividing range and into the Snowy Mountains.
 
Underpinning this event, the driest three year period in NSW in recorded European history and the highest population in harm’s way since settlement.
 
Our IPWEA NSW members are often required to multi-task in natural disasters. Looking  after infrastructure, performing the role of Local Emergency Management Officer within the Emergency Operations Centre and directly assisting fire fighting efforts with Council personnel, plant and equipment working with the RFS, Forestry, NPWS, Fire & Rescue and contracted personnel to try and stop of the path of the fire. Others courageously don their uniforms on the frontline in direct fire fighting duties or in supporting roles with SES and other volunteer organisations.
 
And once the fire passes, we are challenged to stand our community back up by re-connecting transport linkages, removing hazardous fire affected trees, creating temporary access routes around damaged structures, working with power providers to restore essential water, sewer & telecommunication services, help get the essentials of life to people and livestock, and to support critical infrastructure such as our hospitals.
 
Throughout this labour of love for our communities, the humbling support from our IPWEA NSW mates continues to give us strength knowing we are not alone, and there are many we can depend upon across NSW and beyond.
 
The losses across NSW in terms of human life, stock and agriculture, wildlife, family homes, businesses and community infrastructure from this natural disaster are devastating. Twenty one people deceased, thousands of animals and our bush environment ravaged by fire, more than 2,100 homes destroyed and 850 damaged, many more buildings lost and substantial infrastructure damage across the NSW and Australian landscape, and approximate 5 million hectares burned.
 
Our role now, despite still being involved in the on-going response effort, will move to recovery. Working with our community, our own teams, other agencies and contractors, we will replace the damaged infrastructure and buildings across NSW (and Australia), and help rebuild and restore the economic and mental well being of our communities.
 
Knowing we are in this together makes this challenging journey that much easier. Please share a chat with an IPWEA NSW mate and check in with each other. Trust me, it matters. And I encourage all those directly involved to seek professional mental health support. I've already taken this opportunity up for my own benefit and to show leadership for my own team.
 
In Eurobodalla, as it is elsewhere, the impact of the fire disaster is immense, and we still have a large front exposed to fire in the landscape, with a very dry February ahead of us. We've missed out on most of the rain enjoyed by much of the remainder of the NSW coast.
 
Since our first major fire started on 26 November 2019, we've seen huge devastation, with loss of life, shocking carnage to livestock and wildlife, thousands of homes and buildings destroyed or damaged, and major infrastructure damage to roads and bridges, water & sewer, power, telecommunications and public buildings.
 
At the same time, we've witnessed ordinary people within our community do incredible things for others, way beyond that normally expected.
 
We've also seen people from different organisations bring incredible individual skill and initiative, amazing purposeful collaboration and an extraordinary level of genuine commitment to protect, support and re-activate our community. During the peak of the event I coined the phrase 'adapt, invent and overcome', just to reflect the reality of the task at hand and the amazing efforts of the people within our multi-agency response team.
 
Leading during this fire disaster has been a unique challenge, one where doing the right thing matters above all else. For those interested, a small proportion of our story is captured via our Eurobodalla Facebook page and LinkedIn.
 
There is never a more crucial time to be 'real' than when your community and team look to you for guidance during a disaster. For people to trust you, you must be genuine in everything you do. It is impossible to avoid being emotionally impacted by the people you meet who've lost so much, or by the things you see. And that is simply as it is. For me, this overflowed on a couple of occasions, sometimes with the simplest of unexpected triggers. I've given and received more hugs in the last eight weeks than in the previous decade. Each one was given and received unguarded, to provide the warmth of human spirit, support and hope. This returned gratitude, energy and an amazing strength to continue to serve.
 
We all accept there is so much to do, yet already our multi-agency team, and now the ADF, has made incredible in-roads to reconnecting our community. We know, there is a long road ahead yet together, we can do this.
 
Our own team is now looking forward to our upcoming IPWEA NSW Regional Forums, where we can take a short break, share a quiet moment together with the amazing people we've worked with across the fire ground extending throughout our region.
 
Take care everyone.
 
Warren Sharpe OAM
President IPWEA NSW
Eurobodalla Director Infrastructure Services & Local Emergency Management Officer
 

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