Small crew work with big hearts

Crystal Waters brigade is blazing bright

By Sonia Isaacs

CRYSTAL Waters Rural Fire Brigade is one of the smallest brigades on the Sunshine Coast, however as the first point of call for any fire incident in the mostly timber Permaculture village of Crystal Waters, the brigade plays an important ongoing role.
Located at Kilcoy Lane, Crystal Waters, the brigade was initially established in January 1990, as prerequisite towards council approval of the then emerging Permaculture Village which was surrounded by forestry and continues to have the majority of dwellings constructed of timber.
The brigade, numbered 1698, is officially the smallest brigade area by size of any brigade in the Caloundra group Area, North Coast Region.
First Officer, Alan Bannister, said there were currently 17 volunteer fire fighter members, evenly balanced between men and women, with the majority being Crystal Waters residents.
“Our brigade has a strong female interest in the 40s to late 50s age group, we started recruiting females as the males just were not interested! The females ask a lot more questions and show to be much more determined to get it right than the men,” he joked.
Alan said the brigade primarily managed a response area of approximately 259 hectares that included land within boundary of Crystal Waters Permaculture Village, in the wider community of Conondale and beyond. The fire brigade’s primary function was the protection of lives and property, assets, and the environment, along with assistance to owners and residents with providing Prepare, Act, Survive advice.
He said the local fire threat in recent years had mainly been from outside of the Crystal Waters boundary fence; however with dairy farming expansion in recent years in the local community the threat from the North West had been greatly reduced.
“There still exists a potential threat of wildfire from the South West, however with the outside risk reduced; the threat now is from fire starting within the village. Accordingly we have strict controls in place for the visitor’s area in Crystal Waters regarding camp fires,” Alan explained.
“With a visitors camping area and 85 one acre lots, arranged in multiple clusters, divided by medium to deep gullies of high fuel load, the risk can be significant,” Alan added.
When asked who the longest serving member might be; Alan said it was a “bit of a toss-up” between two long term members; fourth officer Graeme Harpley, who is in his 70’s and John Sinclair who is in his 80’s, who was previously an officer but now the rank of a Fire Fighter. Both volunteers joined in 1994.
“From what I can make out they joined around the same time, as their ID numbers are only two numbers apart. Any space of time of more than a couple of weeks in that year would easily been 50 numbers apart,” Alan said.
Last year the brigade responded to 23 incidents which included attendance at the major fires in Conondale, Beerwah, Landsborough and Obi Obi.
Earlier this year in January, the CW VRFB was recognised at the QFES Australia Day Awards with a Certificate of Appreciation for their exceptional support to the welfare of fire crews during the devastating bushfires of October and November 2023.
The brigade’s support personnel saw groups of brigade members or close community acting on behalf of a brigade provide meals and refreshments, for incoming and outgoing incident strike teams, while also catering with mobile services care of SES to fire fighters at an incident, ensuring that every fire fighter received food and drink. During the intensity of the October and November 2023 fires, this vital support saw 24 hour round the clock catering.
“If these wonderful folk were not cooking and preparing for multiple crews, they were shopping and stocking the fridges, then cleaning up, making it presentable for the next session,“ Alan said.
“We can still feel proud as it was Annie Wall (former second officer of CWVRFB) who on behalf of Crystal Waters Brigade organised the catering and worked out the rosters and oversaw the operation for the Obi Obi incident (six days duration), along with folk from our community who all worked relentless hours to provide support for the Fire Fighters,” Alan said.
To date in 2024, prevailing inclement wet weather has seen no major fire incidents for the brigade, with surrounding vegetation not dried out sufficiently to support much in the way of uncontrolled fire.
Alan said the biggest issue so far this year had been the crew fleet vehicles getting bogged during training due to the ground surface being still fairly saturated.
“We managed to get bogged once which resulted in some ingenuity from some new recruits and some good teamwork, which got us back on the track in under a couple hours, which I thought was quite impressive, from all the hours put in through training showed that somebody was listening!” Alan laughed.