Over Christmas I deployed with two other Team Rubicon UK volunteer Greyshirts to fly out to support Team Rubicon Australia with the relief effort in the wake of the devastating bushfires that are ravaging large swathes of Australia.
When the request for support came through two weeks before Christmas I immediately put my name down to deploy. As much as I love spending time with my family at home over Christmas, the pictures and headlines that I had seen of the devastation at that point highlighted how beneficial Greyshirt support would be to the communities affected.
When we arrived in the Willawarrin region (an inland region halfway between Sydney and Brisbane in New South Wales) we immediately did a recce of the area. What we witnessed was utterly shocking, the scale of the decimation was far beyond what the news at home could portray and unlike anything I had seen before. The entire landscape had been scorched. This immense path of destruction had incinerated everything in its path. I still can’t comprehend what it must have been like to witness the fires as they passed through. Throughout our first week we worked in strike teams alongside Team Rubicon Australia and Team Rubicon Norway volunteer Greyshirts, to help in the recovery effort. This involved sorting through the rubble of people’s homes, sifting for possessions, clearing fence lines and driveways of fallen trees as well as providing welfare checks on those impacted.
On the first day on the ground we visited Brian and his son at their property which had been utterly levelled by the fire. Brian was camping in a tent on-site and had been walking up to his property each day, kicking bits of rubble around but not really knowing how to make a step forward. When he greeted us at the property it was clear he was still working through the devastation in his head but he remained pragmatic and upbeat about the situation. I found this courage and hope absolutely mind-blowing given the circumstances. Every single possession and absolutely anything of value had been either totally lost or ruined by the fire that tore through his property, and like many in the region, Brian had no insurance to claim on. Our work with Brian and his son on this day, I believe, gave them that all-important first step on the path to recovery. While we couldn’t fix the situation on his behalf, I think the Greyshirt effort helped Brian see a path towards recovery. As we left it was obvious how grateful and touched they both were by the efforts we had made. I hope this hope remains with them for a long time.
Unfortunately, this is just one of countless stories we heard in our time in the region. In our second week Saj and I moved in to Incident Management Team roles, Saj taking responsibility for Plans and myself as the Operations Section Chief. In these roles we worked hard to better prioritise tasking and to influence the direction of the operation to reach those worst affected by the fires, ensuring that welfare was kept at the top of the list in decision making. Working in this capacity, and briefing Strike Teams each day to help them to maximise their impact, was immensely rewarding and a fantastic opportunity.
Working in these roles also allowed us to build a greater connection to Team Rubicon Australia Greyshirts and to understand the subtle differences in the focus of their operations, where great care is taken to maximise the Greyshirt experience. What struck me about working alongside other global Greyshirts, is the shared passion and enthusiasm we all have to help people in their hour of need. It is an absolute privilege to be part of such an amazing family of skilled and experienced people.
On returning to the UK, and watching the fires escalate in the New Year, I was left with a sense of wishing to have done more. I believe that this is always a challenge on the back of any response operation. For me, I have funnelled my energy into talking to whomever I can about the massive contribution Team Rubicon make globally and to encourage anybody who I believe has the capability to sign up to become a Greyshirt. There is, unfortunately, a growing demand for Team Rubicon support globally and I believe that if you have the desire and the skillset to help people in need, Team Rubicon is the place for you.
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