“I remember getting up in the middle of the night and making sandwiches, tea and coffee with Mum and taking it all the way to the scene of an accident. CFA is just what you did. We’d end up at incidents if we were in the ute with Dad.
“We had our own private unit and Mum would take that out then swap with Dad. The unit had quite a few saves under its belt.
“Dad invented the spray bar on the front and back of the truck as well as the remote monitor sprays. He put them on our private unit and got CFA to come and look at it.
Jacci met her husband Harry through her father through the fire brigade and the couple has a medium size cropping and grazing farm. In addition, they lease the land on the Edenhope Road where Jacci grew up. They are both members of South Lillimur brigade and six years ago Jacci was elected Group communications officer of Kaniva Group comprising eight brigades. (Actually, “they asked Harry and he said, ‘Yeah, she’ll do it’!”)
Jacci is glad her father knew about her new role before he died suddenly. “He was really proud,” she says. “He knew he’d trained me well. I’ve inherited Dad’s tenacity. He was like a dog with a bone and so am I.”
And she’s a clear and strong communicator. Who better to be the voice on the radio when crews are at an incident but someone with local knowledge and connections deep into the community?
“What I don’t know, it’s not hard to find out,” says Jacci. “Communication is the key. It’s networking. Our members are butchers, truck drivers, mechanics, farmers and town folk and everyone knows someone else. Netball, football, hockey, pubs - it’s a cross-hatched network.”
One of the most vital jobs for any member working communications is turning a rural street number into a known location. Number 1300 doesn’t mean much but when the crew hears that an incident is in the Mitchell’s front paddock or Fred’s back hayshed – the local shorthand – the truck can drive there directly.
“Usually I wait for the trucks to call in,” says Jacci. “Someone will give me a situation report once they see the smoke and we get resources in if it’s a bad day. They yell if they need hand-helds, food or more foam.
“The boys will ask me for a wind change and I look up Weather Zone and broadcast it. Everyone can hear me because I’m on the hill. If something is told to me, I’ll repeat it back and it gets across to all the listening sets. It’s important to let the locals know what the incident is and its size so they can help or at least stop working so we don’t have another fire. It’s also to alert our neighbouring brigades so they can start planning.”
With Kaniva Group’s weather coming from South Australia and Jacci equipped with CFA and South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) radio as well as UHF, the members can rely on an up-to-date view of conditions.
“Whatever direction they don’t want the wind to go, it will go,” says Jacci. That’s either a slice of local knowledge or bitter experience.
Another particular challenge for Kaniva Group is sand. “Sand is our thing,” says Jacci. “We had a big fire 18 months ago and the truck got bogged. It’s all four wheel drives here apart from the town pumper. We also have clay scraped out in the open country. It’s used to clay the sand to keep moisture in the soil. It can leave big holes for the trucks to drive into.
“We don’t enter the scrub. That’s DSE country.” But with an SES unit also in town and CFS just over the border, response often relies on interoperability and the comms officers on the radio making all the connections.