Volunteers put lives on hold to answer call

RAOUL Stow has been fighting fires for seven days straight.

The Dilston fire brigade member is one of 2000 Tasmania Fire Service volunteers who have given up holidays, begged for time off work and put aside plans to protect lives and properties from bushfires burning since January 3.

Mr Stow and his crew started at a fire at Epping Forest last week, then moved to the Bicheno fire.

On Monday they were called to the Lake Repulse fire but were diverted for six hours to the Steppes fire in the Western Tiers.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent defending the Meadowbank edge of the Lake Repulse fire.

"Then I got home at 9.30pm last night (Wednesday) and was up at 6.30am to go to the Nabowla fire," Mr Stow said yesterday.

He missed his partner's birthday and is rapidly chewing up his summer holidays without taking his boat out of the marina.

The qualified nurse returns to work as an operation theatre technician at Calvary Health Care on Monday.

But Mr Stow said for most volunteers there was no question of whether they would attend a fire.

"At the end of the day when the call comes in and there's no one else available you make yourself available, because the fire service couldn't survive without us," he said.

The Dilston brigade was on blackout duty at Nabowla yesterday; easy work compared with last Friday's 40-degree heat and strong winds.

Mr Stow said working in that heat was made bearable by mini- breaks in the air-conditioned fire truck.

"You go through a hell of a lot of water," he said.

"You don't really feel it until the end of the day when you sit down and find that you can't stand up again," he said.

Firefighters at Dunalley had an even tougher task.

"Temperatures there reached around 55 degrees, because of super-heated air from the fire," Mr Stow said.

"You can't fight a fire in that. You basically just pick up and run."

Mr Stow said extensive training and the watchful eye of more experienced colleagues got volunteer firefighters through their first few years, and after that they developed an "instinct" for fire and could "feel danger before you see it".

"You don't really have time to get scared," he said.

Mr Stow joined the service when he was 12 and has been a volunteer for 24 years.

He fought his first bushfire two weeks after signing up and started attending motor vehicle accidents and house fires from the age of 17.

When he says the brigade is like an extended family, he's not kidding - he joined because his dad was a member and received basic firefighting training from Tasmania Fire Service chief officer Mike Brown, who was then the Launceston fire station chief.

"The fire service is part of my life," he said.

"You get so much more out of it than just learning how to fight a fire: it's being part of a community, it's life skills."

Mr Stow said he would have to buy the beers for the crew working at Nabowla to make up for talking to the media while they got on with the job.

"It's OK, we'll be out of this one soon," he said."That is, until the next call comes in."

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