In a first, three indigenous communities in the Kimberley region will start operating Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services (VFES) units this year.
DFES Kimberley Superintendent Grant Pipe, who has been managing the project, said it is an initiative driven by need.
“We have 96 aboriginal communities in the Kimberley and all of them have anecdotal evidence of fire in the community. Being so remote they just don’t have the capacity to respond to incidents,” Grant said.
The first VFES unit commenced operations in June in Bidyadanga, Western Australia’s largest indigenous community. The township is located 190 kilometres south of Broome and is a regional service centre for surrounding outstations. During law time and ceremonies the population of 750 residents swells to 1,500.
District Officer Lee Vallance who has been working on the project has provided training for fourteen community members from Bidyadanga’s municipal services and local Karajarri rangers
“Both groups have taken on the mantle of protecting the township. The rangers are part of the Kimberley Land Council facilitated by the Kimberley Ranger Network,” Lee said.
“They are highly regarded in the community and are seen as role models and mentors.
“DFES already utilises their skills as they provide fire mitigation as part their work on country. Upskilling them to fight bushfires as well as defensive structure firefighting benefits the whole community.”
Bidyadanga Police Officer in Charge Senior Sergeant Chris Fox said the presence of the VFES unit increased the ability for the community to fight fire in the township and surrounding area.
“This is a big deal for people in Bidyadanga and it’s a great opportunity to for them to come together and meet with and learn from the rangers in a different social setting,” he said.
“We have a lot of fires around the community at the moment, whether they’re controlled fires or lit by residents to assist in hunting or clearing the land, the rangers are kept very busy.”
The unit will operate out of a property which DFES has fitted out with firefighting equipment and protective personal clothing. A new light tanker was delivered in May.
Lee said they were also encouraging other members of the community to join the unit and to increase awareness of fire behaviour.
There are fire problems in the area due to high fuel loads and the need to cook in the open,” he said.
“We will be returning fortnightly to these communities to provide training and support.”
Two more VFES units are due to start operation in Beagle Bay and Djarindjin on the Dampier Peninsula later in the year.