The faces behind the firefront: Who are the people inside the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre?

David Stimson and Kathy Radford at the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett
David Stimson and Kathy Radford at the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett

For several months, the world has watched as our firefighters have battled everything from grass fires to mega-blazes. But how much do you know about the people behind the scenes? Meet some of the faces inside the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre.

Kathy Radford - Communications Captain for the current fire campaign

Kathy Radford admitted she initially joined the Rural Fire Service (RFS) to be a "sticky beak".

She joined the communications team 22 years ago to keep track of her firefighter son Ben.

"I didn't know where my oldest son was. He was a brand new, basic firefighter and he ventured out somewhere," she said.

"I thought 'if I'm part of comms, at least I know where the brigades are'.

"My husband Brian is in the RFS too. It was more to sticky beak where they were."

At times this was advantageous, and at other times it was stressful.

One day Kathy's husband Brian was in an overrun vehicle during a fire.

"I listened to this on the radio thinking 'that's my husband'," she said.

"He was fine. They know what to do, they train. It's second nature what they do.

"At the same time, some of the members' husbands have been hurt in these fires."

Kathy said one of the hardest moments in the role was during the recent Balmoral fires.

"The ops person asked me to ring this phone number. The man had called Triple Zero (000) twice to say his house was on fire," she said.

"When he answered, he said 'I'm in the house'. I thought 'what do I do here?'

"We talked to him, and we got the brigade to go down. They dragged him into the truck and off they went, but he was more worried about his dog [who was safe]."

Kathy's team remains calm by focusing on the task at hand.

"If you're on the radio, you do the radio. If you're doing the scribing, you do the scribing. If you're on the board, you do the board," she said.

Kathy is among 25 people, both men and women, who speak over the Rural Fire Service scanner - a radio network used for communication between firefighters and the fire control centre.

She discouraged the use of the scanner for members of the public, as they did not get the full context of the situation.

"The scanner shouldn't be used because people only hear what they think they hear and take it out of context," she said.

"They're not getting the full picture of what's actually happened."

David Stimson - Community Safety Officer

David Stimson at the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett

David Stimson at the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett

David Stimson is someone you can rely on to provide information in an emergency.

The community safety officer has met many people in the community in his line of work.

From addressing crowds at community meetings to providing authority in radio interviews - you name it, he's done it.

David started his career as a member of the Penrose Rural Fire Brigade in 1996.

He moved to the Wingello brigade after the senior deputy captain was tragically burnt in his truck on New Year's Day in 1998.

"I felt at the time I would be more useful transferring to Wingello trying to rebuild that brigade. It was all but decimated and facing closure," he said.

David quickly rose through the ranks and went from the positions of president and senior deputy captain to captain by 1999.

"We rebuilt the brigade with a lot of support from the Wingello community," he said.

"It became a very reliable brigade. We built it up to a point where we were proud of it."

David took employment with the RFS in 2006 and he has served in this role ever since.

He is responsible for ensuring fire and safety information is communicated to affected communities.

In addition to this, David is responsible for giving feedback on current and future issues that may be of concern to bushfire-affected communities.

During the tough times, he recalls his experience with a fire that hit Balmoral about 20 years ago.

A sign of appreciation for the Rural Fire Service in Picton near the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett

A sign of appreciation for the Rural Fire Service in Picton near the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett

"I was driving up there with the senior deputy captain. We both looked at column of smoke [in the distance] and said 'oh shit'," he said.

"We were all reasonably green. We cut our teeth and gained so much experience.

"We've had the privilege to pass this onto others. You have to quickly analyse the situation and work your way around it."

When David has time off, he likes to travel with his wife Kerry. The two have travelled extensively in the past year.

"The other great joy in our life is our grandchildren," he said.

"We have six and we're proud of every one of them. They're just so individual, they're an absolute joy to us."

Both of their families live in Tamworth, so the couple visits for a few days when the opportunity presents.

"I enjoy my days off more than I probably once did," he said.

"A lot of people in the RFS don't switch off. Your phone is connected to so much stuff, including pagers. I guess the lesson is turn your phone off."

Nicholas Medianik - Primary Deputy Incident Controller

Nicholas Medianik at the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett

Nicholas Medianik at the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre. Photo: Emily Bennett

A simple phrase helps Nicholas Medianik in trying times: whatever will be, will be.

In his role as a Deputy Incident Controller, he is responsible for supporting the incident controller with situational awareness to help with the issuing of warnings and alerts.

"What I get satisfaction out of is how the multi-agency effort comes together, how the community comes together and how all of our emergency management partners all pull together. It all just flows seamlessly," he said.

Nicholas said it was important for people in his role to be "the calmest in the room".

"No matter what the situation is, no matter what challenges are thrown at you, no matter what's gone wrong or right, you have to project that calmness and coordination," he said.

"There are days when the fire intensity is too much, there's never enough fire trucks for every person's house. It's the realisation and acceptance that sometimes what will be, will be.

"All we can do is help, shape and guide the final outcome. It's about having acceptance in your mind that everything you did was to the best of your ability."

Nicholas said one the biggest misconceptions about people in his role was that they were "office dwellers".

He said the role involved land management, fire suppression, the preservation of threatened and endangered species, the care of culturally sensitive sites and the protection of assets such as water storage.

These aspects of the role - and many more - have kept Nicholas busy this fire season.

This story The faces behind the firefront: Who are the people inside the Wollondilly Fire Control Centre? first appeared on Southern Highland News.

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