Volunteer fire fighters copping abuse while protecting homes
FIGHTING a fast-spreading grass fire south of Sarina wasn't the only adversity Armstrong Beach Rural Fire Services incident controller Ron Gurnett faced at the weekend.
The unpaid volunteer also had to contend with criticism, complaints and indifference from the residents whose properties he was trying to protect.
When alerting residents to the danger of the blaze, one man remarked to him that he was too busy watching the football.
"I thought, well I would have liked to be watching the footy too," he said.
Another time, Mr Gurnett was trying to contain a fire when a person from a neighbouring property came and criticised him.
"He came over and abused me because I didn't let him know what was going on, and he lived on the other side of the hill," he said.
Mackay region acting area training and support officer Fiona Quirk said those living on rural properties were legally obligated to protect their homes from fire.
"We can't have a fire truck for every house, so they have to be sufficient for themselves," she said.
She said residents needed to have a cleared area of 20 to 30 metres around their homes.
"In some properties we weren't seeing that. Some were really well-prepared, and others not so well-prepared," she said.
Ms Quirk said making houses accessible to trucks was also crucial to rural fire safety.
"I have made that decision before, that a house is what we class as undefendable," she said.
"We're not going to risk crews' lives... It's not a decision we make lightly."
Mr Gurnett said the ungrateful response from some residents was discouraging.
"When you're getting tired, and you've been there for sometime, it makes you wonder why you're doing it, because you don't feel appreciated," he said.
"That's something we don't want to happen. Volunteers are as scarce as hens' teeth, we need to look after them."
Mr Gurnett said he was worried those living in rural areas were blasé about fire safety.
"Someone said to me the other night, 'Oh we're right now for a couple of years,'" he said.
"I said no, next year. Grass grows, and that's what causes fires."
It wasn't all bad news.
"Some householders were really good, they couldn't be more helpful," Mr Gurnett said.
"A lady was bringing out coffee... It's a little thing, but when you're knackered to have a coffee is like - oh, I've won the lotto."
Ms Quirk said those living on rural properties must educate themselves on fire safety.
To receive information on fire safety, call 4965 6641 or go to the website http://www.ruralfire.qld.gov.au.