When major fires hit the area in 2002/03 and 2006/07, Mack took his local knowledge into the ICC and was able to be highly effective. “All the locals have the knowledge,” he says, “but the excitement is on the truck. You have to have a local high enough up the command chain taking that knowledge into the ICC and they have to have authority.
“You could knock ideas on the head that you knew weren’t going to work. The terrain close to home is mountainous with steep tracks. It’s no good having a strike team in big trucks. Local knowledge will tell you whether you have to revert to a slip-on.
“The terrain dictates the distances around here and timing goes awry. Outsiders could say that something would be in place in 20 minutes but you know that it’s more like one and a half hours away: you can’t get down that road; you can’t turn around; the creek is impassable.
“In 2002/03, we didn’t involve the local group in the strike team line-up. We didn’t tie them into the Incident Action Plan. We kept them loose to be guerilla fighters. We had equipment we could flick out quickly. I could call up the local captain and they could whip out for an hour to take care of something on Joe Blow’s farm.
“It wore them out but they were able to freelance in the area they know. I was criticised for that but I hold that is was the best use of local resources.
“I’ve had people in an ICC say to me, ‘Stay one step behind me. Don’t go out of my sight. I need you.’
“You have to do your homework in that role. Strike team leaders are very astute so your briefings have to be right on the money.”
Mack sees the local knowledge expert in an ICC as a conduit. “ICCs are dead in the water if they’re locked down. When you have local fires you’ve got to deal with the public. Problems come up and you have to be aware of what the public is doing. People don’t want a fence cut so can we use a grader to grade the fenceline instead. They don’t want water taken from a particular dam. You have to manage that, otherwise there are bad feelings at the end.
“People still recognise me now from that time. They appreciate that you’ve helped them.
While it’s true that Mack’s property burnt out in 2007, it’s also correct to say that it was saved by some furious firefighting. “The prevailing winds during 2003 and 2007 were northerlies,” says Mack, “with a southeast change coming in at about 2pm. Our fire started in Dargo and then variable winds had it zigzagging and brought it home.”
Mack, wife Robyn, sons Andrew and Stuart, two strike team trucks, DSE and some local dozer contractors were spread out across the property. “We didn’t know where the others were,” recalls Mack “I was monitoring about four different frequencies. I heard over the radio that the shearing shed was still there.
“It was hard work getting over that fire. We’re only just getting over it now. At the same time, we were lucky to have that support. The house and most of the stock were saved. On a bad day, there’s not much you can do.”
CFA remains a great pleasure in Mack’s life and he reflects with pride on the Omeo Group as it goes from strength to strength. “All the captains get together for the group meetings,” says Mack. “We’re able to talk with experience and things tick over pretty well. We know who’s good at running thing and who will need a hand. There’s no worry how we’re going to perform. We’ve got a good rapport with DSE. You couldn’t ask for better.”