A CONVOY of Fire and Rescue NSW fire engines bearing officers from northern regional areas drove into Taree yesterday.
They had two taskings. To attend a briefing about the Blue Mountains bushfire crisis at Taree Fire Station and to stop for lunch at Taree Service Centre.
Around noon the briefing room at Taree Fire Station filled with more than 20 men and one woman from stations at Sawtell, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca, Macksville, Bowraville, Kempsey, Wauchope and Laurieton.
It was business, but not as usual, for the officers as inspector Brad Harrison updated them on the bushfire threat, directed them to ensure their appliances (fire engines) were in operational order, and requested they travel in convoy to Olympic Park in Sydney.
The convoy to Sydney is part of one of the largest mobilisations of fire engines and fire officers in the history of Fire and Rescue NSW. The only other similar mobilisations took place during the 1994 bushfire emergencies, and the 1997 Sydney hail storm disaster.
According to inspector Harrison, it was expected the officers would remain in the Blue Mountains until at least Friday and the mobilisation of appliances from country regional north areas was part of a broader NSW campaign of support.
That support yesterday took the form of up to 170 fire tankers and fire engines crewed by nearly 800 officers being deployed to the Blue Mountains, according to Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner, Greg Mullins. He advised that this number could rise to about 200 fire engines if the situation deteriorates.
Commissioner Mullins, himself a veteran of every Blue Mountains bushfire emergency since 1977, said firefighters were travelling from all over NSW to be ready to respond, and 10 fire engines and crews from Queensland, and another 10 from Melbourne, would be in Sydney to assist.
"Fifty-three fire engines, tankers and crews more than 200 fire officers from across regional NSW are heading to Sydney to prepare for the extreme fire conditions forecast for today," Commissioner Mullins said.
"They will be joined by 16 units and 70 fire officers based in the Blue Mountains, recalled off duty fire officers on reserve fleet engines, and fire crews from suburban Sydney.
"The Blue Mountains and surrounding communities could be facing a bushfire threat on a scale that has not been experienced before. As such, FRNSW will be at maximum capacity and will work shoulder to shoulder with NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers to protect lives and property in mountain communities."
Commissioner Mullins said that as well as deploying an unprecedented number of firefighting resources to the bushfire crisis, it would still be 'business as usual' for FRNSW in the Manning Valley and regional areas of NSW.
"We are keeping adequate emergency response resources available to respond to grass fires, smaller bush and scrub fires, road accidents, structure fires, rescues and hazardous materials emergencies," Commissioner Mullins said.
So with the briefing done at Taree Fire Station, the crews climbed into their fire engines and headed to Taree Service Centre. It was time for lunch, an opportunity to fuel-up, relax, enjoy a laugh and the company of new friends. The calm before the firestorm.