Bushfires have an impact on Victorian summer lifesaving operations

The 2019-20 Victorian patrol season has seen a number of Victorian lifesaving members, clubs and services impacted by the ongoing fire situation in East Gippsland.

The beach at Mallacoota was closed when fires impacted the region on New Year’s Eve, during which Mallacoota SLSC lost its first aid trailer and some of its first aid and other equipment in the fires. Almost a month since volunteer lifesavers last placed the red and yellow flags into the sand at Mallacoota beach, patrols at the surf life saving club started again over the Australia Day long weekend.

The first patrol of 2020 for the club was made possible thanks to the support of Life Saving Victoria, the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service and clubs from around the state who donated equipment and supplies to the club.

“It’s the first time this year that it’s felt like Mallacoota, or even like summer,” said one club member, Dr Sara, who has been working to keep the medical centre operational 24/7 since the devastating fires ravaged the region, burning the club’s first-aid caravan to the ground.

“It was especially good for the kids in the club,” said Simon Berry, the club’s president. “It was that sense of normality that we were able to create by being back on patrol which was fantastic.”

Lakes Entrance beaches were also closed when fires threatened the township early in the New Year. While regular patrols have since resumed, temporary beach closures have continued on and off since then due to hazards including poor air quality, inclement weather, and dangerous surf.

Smoke from the fires has also impacted a number of lifesaving services in recent weeks, causing poor air quality, visibility and/or water quality conditions, leading to the temporary closure of beaches across the coastline and Port Phillip Bay, and as far west as Port Campbell.

LSV Manager Lifesaving Operations Liam Krige said the safety and wellbeing of lifeguards and lifesavers, as well as their responsibilities to keep the public safe in the water, had been top of mind in all instances.

“LSV directs lifeguards and lifesavers to always take a safety-first approach to both their own and the public’s wellbeing. We are committed to providing our teams with up-to-date guidance and support, allowing them to make informed and critical decisions at a local level.

“Mallacoota SLSC is the Victorian club that has been most directly impacted by the fires and our thoughts are with our members, their families and the greater community, many of whom have lost homes and property.

“Some of our local lifesavers and members, along with their families, chose to stay in town to support their local community and LSV has been in regular contact with them, providing ongoing support.”

LSV President Paul James and two operational staff were recently able to travel to Mallacoota to help assess the impact to the club and to offer direct support to the members in Mallacoota.

During the visit, Paul also caught up with Mallacoota member and former lifeguard Brodie Scott (also a 2019 Building Leaders Scholar), who was working on deployment in Mallacoota with the Army Reserve.

A number of Victorian members who had been participating in the George Bass Surfboat Marathon, as well as a training camp being run by Half Moon Bay SLSC, were also caught up in the fires on the NSW South Coast, becoming stranded in Narooma over the new year period, due to fire activity and road closures. While they experienced delays and detours, all members are safe and well, with most returning home in the days following the fire impact.

Mr Krige said the offers of support and donations from fellow lifesavers to Mallacoota SLSC and broader fire-affected communities had been immense.

“Our clubs are part of their local communities and tragic events like the fires, really do bring out the best in humanity with many clubs undertaking events to raise money for Mallacoota SLSC, affected communities or their own local CFA units and charities,” he said.

As well as providing support and personal protective equipment to help clubs and members during the bushfire emergency, Mr Krige said LSV operations had also been involved in support roles during relief and recovery efforts, with LSV’s Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drones being deployed to assist Victoria Police in supporting aerial surveillance of fire impacted areas in East Gippsland, and some of our digital radios deployed to support Defence personnel.

LSV is also extending support and resources to our incredible aquatic facility partners in East Gippsland, some of whom have played a vital, supportive role in relief and recovery efforts during the bushfire emergency, with many inspiring stories emerging about their role in assisting the community to be told in weeks to come.

While the end of January sees the end of our peak period and most of our weekday services, volunteer lifesaving patrols continue to operate on weekends and public holidays until Easter.

Visit beachsafe.org.au or download the Beachsafe app to find your nearest patrolled locations, dates and times.

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