Senior firefighter Andrew Madders checks equipment on one of the trucks.
Senior firefighter Andrew Madders checks equipment on one of the trucks. Jocelyn Watts

Firefighters have an array of jobs

AUTOMATIC traffic light controllers, GPSs and hydraulic equipment have changed the face of firefighting in the past 30 years.

But some things never change.

Images of bare-chested muscular young men inevitably came to my mind before my day with Maryborough’s firefighters.

The reality was quite different.

My daily phone calls to the firies were often met with the response that “nothing’s happened today”.

So I was keen to find out what they do all day when they aren’t fighting fires or freeing people from crashed cars.

I arrived at the Maryborough fire station just after 8am, in time to listen to the morning meeting.

“You might be in for a boring day,” senior firefighter John Wheeler told me, after discussing plans for maintenance inspections of two local businesses.

John has been a firefighter since the late ’70s. His interview at Maryborough station was held around the large silky-oak boardroom table at which the men now sit for smoko.

“I sat at the end of this table surrounded by eight or nine board members,” he said.

“Back then the stations were run by boards.

“There were 81 boards across the state.

“In 1990 the boards disbanded and the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service was created.

“Once that happened everything started to become more standardised across the state.”

These days fighting fires is just a small part of the job – most call-outs now are to road crashes.

Firefighters have to do nearly four years of training to become fully qualified and all firies have to complete ongoing training.

Checking equipment, paperwork, checking equipment again, training, more paperwork and more checking of equipment takes up a large part of every day.

Another huge task is conducting fire safety maintenance inspections at every business, community group and government building in town.

The firies go through every workplace and check that systems are in place to deal with a fire or other emergency.

That was our first job for the day.

Each crew sticks together for the whole day, so all four crew members hopped in the fire truck to go to a local timber plant.

They toured the plant and checked fire extinguishers, hydrants, evacuation plans and fire safety records.

“Most businesses comply with fire safety regulations,” John told me.

“If they don’t, they can be fined.”

An hour later we were almost ready to leave when a call came in – a man had been overcome by fumes in the pump room of a Maryborough supermarket.

Not knowing the extent of the danger, the lights and sirens were activated and the crew rushed to the scene.

The two crew members delegated to don the breathing apparatus pulled their trousers on in the back of the truck so they’d be ready for action on arrival.

Once they arrived, the firefighters used a gas monitoring device to detect any toxic substances in the air – they didn’t find any.

The fume-affected man had already been taken to hospital by the ambulance, so the firies went back to the station and I was given the grand tour.

I was most impressed by the on-site gym, where the guys work up a sweat at the end of the day (as if they haven’t sweated enough).

John also showed me the smoke room, where the firefighters do training to prepare for housefires.

A series of rooms are filled with smoke from a smoke machine and firefighters have to navigate through doors and past furniture to save the dummy inside.

It’s this sort of training that prepares them for a real emergency.

When a triple-0 call is received at the fire communications centre at Kawana, an alarm is activated at the fire station and the roller doors automatically open, ready for the crews to rush to the job.

Because the station is on a busy corner in Maryborough, the crew is able to control the traffic lights, switching them all to red so the path is clear for the fire truck.

After a day on the job it was clear our firefighters are highly trained, professional and yet still manage to have a sense of humour.

And they don’t just sit around drinking tea all day.

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