Welcome to Kempsey Shire Council’s 7 August 2020 eNewsletter!

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Our recovery heroes

Craig Milburn

Dear community,

It seems like yesterday and at the same time another lifetime. 9 months ago this weekend the world turned its eyes to Kempsey as the fires descended on our towns in the Upper Macleay.

This week is Local Government Week, with the theme ‘Councils Do’. In the spirit of that theme we have been reflecting on that period when our amazing staff showed exactly what we can do. Below are the tales of our five staff members that we highlighted this week. They are amazing accounts to read, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Their tales represent the many staff who made a difference in so many ways during those intense hours, days and weeks.

Thank you,

Craig Milburn, General Manager



During the bushfires Carissa moved from her normal IT projects role to be at the recovery centre full time, coordinating Council’s onsite 24x7 roster and supporting centre operations - essentially working behind the scenes to make sure the centre kept functioning.

“There were many staff working there for the first few weeks including our General Manager, Directors, Senior Managers and staff from all levels and areas of Council working side by side with other agencies. It was a solid team effort, with council staff working approximately 500 hours onsite at the centre while it was in operation. We had a really great team of people working together under difficult circumstances to support the community wherever we could.”

“There was a really strong sense of community that developed within the centre. A memorable moment was the celebration of local resident Carol’s birthday where there was a cake and everyone came together to sing her happy birthday in the main hall. Those little moments were pretty special.”

“Once the evacuation centre was officially closed, I worked with the key agencies to pack down the centre, arranged cleaning of supplies, returned equipment and disbursed excess donations back into the community.”

“I feel very proud to work for an organisation which was so openly and proactively committed to supporting the community through this event. I certainly gained some perspective after meeting people in the community who were affected by the fires and hearing their stories.”



Beck stepped away from her role in Customer Service to work 12-hour shifts at the RFS on the front desk, answering the many calls for assistance.

“I only did days, could I say a massive thanks to the staff that stepped in and did the night shifts when needed? There were so many staff that where involved in helping during this time.”

Beck’s role called on her to ensure every call was given attention while making sure the attention of RFS staff was directed appropriately.

“Our main role was to prioritise calls and ensure the lines stayed open, as dispatch use the same line as the public. We offered general support for many callers so the dispatch team could spend their time reacting, responding and getting information out as soon as possible.

“A major challenge was the changing nature of the event. Not always having the answer people are looking for. Things can change in an instant and the unknown is always scary.”

That fear was balanced by the knowledge she was making a difference.

“The main highlight was knowing you were able to help take the pressure off, allowing others to do what they do best and then being able to observe the way that the RFS and National Parks work together and respond in a crisis.

“It might sound funny but walking away was a challenge, I always felt there was more to be done or that I could have done more.”

Reflecting on the events Beck feels a mix of emotions. “I remember feeling enthusiastic, confused, sad, happy, fearful and in awe of the amazing crew. Mostly I feel lucky I was given the opportunity to help in a time when there was so much uncertainty of what was going to happen.”

Beck is now working in the Recovery Hub.



Jason was the On-call Operator, responsible for water quality, water treatment plants and reservoir supplies.

“On Friday 8th November I had just finished work for the day and was on call for the weekend.

“At 5pm the smoke became thicker and the red skies got darker. I quickly adjusted the reservoir levels remotely. At 6:30pm Willawarrin reservoir was at a low level of 54% and dropping. That was when I heard the RFS were fighting fires in Willawarrin.

“My main concern was increasing the water production from our water bore to the reservoir, to help RFS in the town maintain pressure.”

Jason contacted his manager and they arranged with the RFS for Jason to to access Willawarrin’s water supply. He recalls the challenge of getting into town.

“Heading up to Willawarrin there were many burnt out and red glowing trees near the Armidale Road, and in the town itself there was the RFS fighting fires around the Primary School and nearby houses. “Once at the Water Treatment Plant, I adjusted some valving to manually run the two water bores, to increase the flow rate to the reservoir, helping maintain pressure for the RFS.

“The town’s water services, valves and water meters started melting under the extreme heat causing major water leaks. Our maintenance staff worked all night fixing and shutting down leaks.

“At 12:30am our water bores shutdown on AC power outage, due to burnt out power poles. We used Council’s water cartage contractor, to first help RFS in town and then in to start filling our reservoir on the Saturday morning.” Jason then monitored Willawarrin and Bellbrook water supplies across the weekend.



When the emergency escalated in November last year, Fiona stepped away from her role as Property and Facility Oficer to work as Local Emergency Management Officer as part of 24 hour emergency centre with Police.

Initially based at the RFS Headquarters as Council Liaison Officer and administrative aupport to the RFS, when the fires intensified, Fiona was called on to set up the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

“I was working at the RFS Headquarters on the day of 8 November 2019. During the afternoon the fires had escalated and I was called by our Local Emergency Operations Controller to open the EOC. Initially our EOC was open 24 hours a day, and then we operated 7am to 7pm at the height of the fires.

“Some of my role in the EOC was to establish and maintain the EOC. I arranged road closures and traffic control, coordinated operational support within the EOC and collated agency reports on a daily basis.”

While the uncertainty of what was going to happen was challenging Fiona, a standout memory was “being a part of an amazing team of multiple organisations such as the RFS, FRNSW, National Parks and Police, the volunteers and the community.

“At times it was overwhelming, although at the same time, it was a privilege to see how well the RFS and other agencies operate in such an event.”



At the peak of the fires, Steve stepped out of his normal role as Council’s Coordinator Parks and Projects, to work in the Emergency Evacuation Centre at the Kempsey Showground.

Working with local businesses and volunteers, Steve helped transport items such as food, water, eskies, ice, communications and aid for people in need in Willawarrin and Bellbrook.

Steve was rostered on between midnight and 8am to help people, often working 12-hour days as the fires worsened.

“Meeting people in Willawarrin and Bellbrook and being able to provide services and items they actually needed within a relatively short period of time was amazing,” he said.

“The whole experience made me feel a huge amount of community pride. Our resilient community supporting others in need is something I will never forget.”

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