From the ashes

Crows Nest Firefighter and F45 North Sydney’s Head Trainer Wayne Fergusson talks to northsider about being on the bushfire front line and what happens once the flames have gone…

First published in northsider magazine Autumn 2020 issue.

“Fire everywhere” The December bush fires in Bilpin

"Fire everywhere.” That was the message received by Senior Firefighter Wayne Fergusson and his crew as they travelled to Bilpin, the next location they’d been assigned to attend on the NSW bushfire front line.


It was that night in December when the Blue Mountains’ towns of Batlow burned.

“I’ve seen bushfires before, but never experienced anything like these,” Wayne says. “The scale of these fires, the intensity, the devastation…”


Wayne has been a firefighter based on the North Shore for 20 years. With specialist training in search and rescue, his expertise has seen him attend natural disasters, including the 2010 Queensland floods in the Lockyer Valley and the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


“Events like these are truly overwhelming,” Wayne continues. “We drove through a town in Japan and it was devastated. There was a boat on top of a four storey building, cars upside down against lampposts…it was worse than you could ever have imagined. But your training just kicks in and takes over. You have tasks to get done so you get on and do them, get the job done. It’s an honour to be able to help.”


“It’s an honour to be able to help” Senior Firefighter Wayne Fergusson


Wayne and the crew from Crows Nest first became involved in the NSW bushfires back in November last year when Fire and Rescue NSW responded to the RFS’ request for assistance. They headed to Kempsey, which had already been affected by the fires, to inspect the burnt out areas. The crew assessed safety, including the stability of buildings and asbestos and gas risks, so people could start to return home.


It was here that Wayne and his colleagues woke up to find graffiti of gratitude written on their vehicle’s windows.


“Everyone we spoke to had a crazy story about what they’d experienced with these fires,” Wayne says. “One man’s house had burned down so he jumped in the car to get to his mum’s. As he was driving the fires were behind him but then suddenly they were racing ahead at over 60kmph. The flames overtook him.” Thankfully, he made it to his mum’s safely and both of them are alive and well.


“I’ve seen bushfires before but never anything like these”

Over the summer, Wayne visited communities in areas including Gospers Mountain, Ulladulla, Balmoral, Picton and Wisemans Ferry.


But what happens once the fires are out and the news reports end? It’s thought that 4.9 million hectares of land and 800 million animals have been affected in NSW alone.


“The scale of these fires is huge,” Wayne continues. “While it’s very kind of people to offer to shout me coffee when I’m in my uniform, it would be great if that money was going to the people in the bushfire affected areas.


“I’m just doing my job after all,” he adds, humbly. “From donation tins in coffee shops to supporting groups like Empty Esky, we can all do something to help.”


Wayne’s own community of F45 fans have been doing their bit to raise money.

“It’s such a welcoming and supportive group of people,” Wayne says of the gym on Mount Street, which is currently streaming classes online due to Covid-19 closures. “We’re all in it together.”


One of F45 North Sydney’s recent fundraisers saw every $1 donated turn into a burpee for the trainers. “We raised over $1000 on that occasion…” Wayne smiles. “Luckily we all like burpees…”


Clockwise from above; A fleet of fire trucks heading to help, gratitude from locals, devastation near Kempsey, Wayne and F45 North Sydney at a fundraiser.



How you can help

NB: Information put together before Covid-19 restrictions


@emptyesky

An online movement encouraging followers to visit bushfire affected towns with an empty esky to fill up with produce when they’re there. Head to emptyesky.com.au and follow them on Instagram.

@spendwiththem

Set up by Turia Pitt, this Instagram account showcases products and services from businesses in fire affected towns, encouraging followers to visit, buy online and #spendwiththem

@staywiththem and @stayinthebush

Both showcase holiday accommodation in affected areas to help rebuild tourism.

Organise a fundraiser or skip coffee or alcohol for a month and donate the savings. Organisations with official fundraising campaigns include:

Australian Red Cross redcross.org.au

WIRES Wildlife Rescue wires.org.au

WWF Australia wwf.org.au


Words: Anna Gordon Photos: Wayne Fergusson