From the recovery teams in the fire field
EPA staff Joshua Madden and Corrie Ford share their stories from the field as they assist recovery teams in the aftermath of the bushfires.
Joshua Madden and other EPA officers in Grafton assisting Rural Fire Service and Public Works in recovery assessment
“I joined other EPA officers were deployed in November to the Grafton Fire Control Centre to assist the RFS in the assessment of bushfire impacted buildings, primarily in the Nymboida Valley,” Josh told EPA Connect.
“Three composite teams consisting of staff from Fire and Rescue NSW, Public Works, a specialist asbestos hygienist and the EPA assessed around 100 dwellings over three days.
“We provided technical expertise in the identification of environmental hazards including chemicals, sewage, runoff and asbestos.
“We collected site attributes via a smartphone app and synched this with Public Works in Sydney where state-wide information is collated and used to prioritise emergency clean up, and to inform the broader government response.
“While many of the buildings were completely destroyed, some extraordinary tales of survival were heard.
“One local I spoke to told me how he had sheltered in a dam while watching his house burn – he escaped with minor burns and rescued his dad who suffered from smoke inhalation.
“Assessing affected buildings can be challenging, it can be hot and dusty at times and emotionally taxing when talking with people who have lost everything.
“Despite this, people were generally positive about restarting their lives though not necessarily in the same location. We anticipate the impact assessments will continue for some time.”
Corrie Ford assisted local Fire and Rescue teams in Bega to assess fire damaged sites
“The Bega Valley Shire was impacted by the Badja Fire primarily on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, with many communities overrun without much warning, and entire properties have been destroyed,” Corrie said.
“In addition to myself, the building assessment multi-agency team on the south coast includes members from Public Works, Fire and Rescue NSW and asbestos hygienists from consultancies JBS&G and WSP.
“The main role of the team has been to assess the different types of waste and estimate the volumes for disposal.
“Many residents are also now back searching through the remains of their homes, so community engagement skills have been very important.
“One man we met in Quaama had lost his house and outbuildings, but when he returned the next day, he found his chicken coop and chickens, alive, untouched and still laying eggs!"
“In our first week the team assessed over 400 damaged or destroyed buildings; there are still thousands of properties that need to be assessed so this work will continue for many months.”
Joshua Madden is a Senior Operations Officer with the EPA and assisted with assessments in Northern NSW. Joshua was a NSW park ranger for five years before starting with EPA in 2013. He holds a Bachelor of Environmental Management and Diploma of Natural Resource Management. He is a trained fire fighter and EPA investigator.
Corrie Ford is Unit Head of the EPA’s contaminated land (PFAS) section and is representing the EPA on the NSW far south coast, undertaking building impact assessment work. Corrie joined the EPA in 2015 after working for six years as an environmental consultant
EPA officer assessing asbestos on site in Nowra
NSW Rural Fire Service tally of damaged sites to be assessed in February 2020