QFES Yasi
QFES Yasi

Ghosts of Yasi still linger a decade on

WITH more than 40 years of experience as a volunteer with firstly the NSW and then the Queensland Rural Fire Service Warren Kelly has seen fire, flood, storm and tempest.

 

But the scope and destruction of Cyclone Yasi still haunts his memories.

Currently a health a safety officer Mr Warren first put his hand up to volunteer as a firefighter at the age of 16 at Sandy Point in NSW and moved to Queensland in 2005.

Since 2006 he has been first officer at the Black River Rural Fire Brigade and in time of disaster his role is to manage, support and coordinate members of his brigade as they are deployed to the disaster frontline.

He has the unenviable job of having to often serve at the incident control headquarters and having to send his family, friends and colleagues into the frontline of disasters.

Then on their return having to debrief those colleagues so they could release the experiences they had seen and been through.

It was during Cyclone Larry, which struck the Innisfail region in March 2006 that he and others in the different emergency services learned valuable lessons on managing and coping with disasters which would then by applied to cyclone Yasi.

"When Larry struck it was my first opportunity to deal with a disaster of such magnitude and I ended up sending people from our brigade into Cyclone Larry's area of operations the day after the cyclone hit."

Ten year anniversary of Cyclone Yasi. Severe Cyclone Yasi 2011. Aftermath. Ingham Floods. Swift Water Response team member Pete Mapson in Townsville Road after helping with an emergency medical evacuation Picture: Evan Morgan
Ten year anniversary of Cyclone Yasi. Severe Cyclone Yasi 2011. Aftermath. Ingham Floods. Swift Water Response team member Pete Mapson in Townsville Road after helping with an emergency medical evacuation Picture: Evan Morgan

In his role he deployed his then wife and daughter into the frontline when a Townsville contingent deployed to Silkwood.

"Afterwards when they returned they were defusing with me I was able to get an understanding of what they saw and what they experienced.

"That gave me a broad understanding of what I would be sending people into from then on."

He said apart from clearing away debris and responding for requests for help brigade members were also dealing with residents suffering from pschyological trauma.

"There was a lot of frontline pschycology being done by our guys as lot of the people would come in and they would be ashen faced and wondering around aimlessly not knowing what to do and it often fell on our people to just sit there and talk to them and listen to what they had to say and have a cup of tea or bottle of water just to help them deal with the shock and the trauma they were in."

"And that was harsh on a lot of the volunteers too because they took all that on and had nowhere to release that.

"In fact we started to see the large scale PSTD starting to occur in people without people realising what it was."

"One of the stories that came out of that was one of the ladies who insisted on making cakes for the firies when half of her kitchen was gone, just blown away by the cyclone.

"Seeing how people reacted in the face of adversity was not something our volunteers had had to deal with in previous years.

"Larry taught the whole fire service about pre-deploying into those areas so they are ready to run straight away without having to make their way into the location."

Ten anniversary of Cyclone Yasi. Recovery from Cyclone Yasi 2011. SES volunteer Stefan Buick from Canberra clears tree litter from a house at Tully Heads. Picture: Evan Morgan
Ten anniversary of Cyclone Yasi. Recovery from Cyclone Yasi 2011. SES volunteer Stefan Buick from Canberra clears tree litter from a house at Tully Heads. Picture: Evan Morgan

He said lessons learned from cyclone Larry were applied when five years later Severe Cyclone Yasi came knocking on the door.

"I think Yasi gave us a large scale incident to be able to put in place what we learned from Larry.

"Yasi was 500km across, from here to Cooktown was the extremities of this cyclone and that is a huge area, you would be driving for half a day and still not get across the length of this cyclonic system.

"It hit Cardwell as a Category 5 and it hit us as a Category 3 and that still is pretty devastating.

"In the morning after the cyclone crossed it was still blowing at 5-60kms an hours and a couple of our crew went out and did a rapid damage assessment of the Black River region.

"Soon after that we started to get our crews ready to rock and roll and head out into other areas and I went back to the regional management centre and we started to deploy our people form there.

"We had people deployed locally and we also had people deployed to the Hinchinbrook and Cardwell areas."

He said a key aspect of deploying volunteers was giving them the support both during their deployment and the psychological support afterwards.

"There are a lot of volunteers who do carry a lot of trauma, it is like grief because they know there is not much they can do for some people.

"They can't rebuild it they can't fix it for these people all they can do is be there get them stabilised and help them to get things that they need to do.

"We have learnt a lot about how to deal with our people how to protect our people and how to keep them on track after they have been involved in those disasters.

He had high praise for those who volunteered to help others in need.

"They are volunteers but they go beyond and above."

"The way I look at it everything a volunteer can give for their community is to be valued it does not matter how big or small it is because they are giving to somebody else.

"If we were in the same position it would be nice if somebody else would left a hand to help us."

 

Originally published as Ghosts of Yasi still linger a decade on


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