35 YEARS SERVICE: North Burnett Area Commander Kent Freeman handing the keys of a new fire truck over to Captain of the Gayndah Fire and Rescue Service Ron Mitchell. Picture: Felicity Ripper.
35 YEARS SERVICE: North Burnett Area Commander Kent Freeman handing the keys of a new fire truck over to Captain of the Gayndah Fire and Rescue Service Ron Mitchell. Picture: Felicity Ripper.

Gayndah fire captain to celebrate 35 years’ service

FOR nearly 35 years, Gayndah's fire captain has been on call to help members of his community who are in life or death situations.

From car crashes, bushfires to floods, Ron Mitchell has seen it all.

For Red Balloon Day this year, we've sat down with one of the longest serving fireys in the North Burnett to talk about one of the worst bushfire seasons on record.

This fire season saw crews in the North Burnett work overtime to help the region.

Gayndah fire crews manned stations, attending fires, and aided in water bombings throughout November and December in 2019.

The Gayndah fire crews at Gayndah airport filling water bombers during the 2019 fire season. Picture: Kent Freeman.
The Gayndah fire crews at Gayndah airport filling water bombers during the 2019 fire season. Picture: Kent Freeman.

"There was the big one over at Mt Perry, where we supported by sending crews out to the fire zone," Capt Mitchell said.

"We also operated the air base here, filling the water bombers from Gayndah airport and dropping it over out there."

Their crews were sent for a full week to Bundaberg to run their air base, and to Childers station to support the Woodgate fires.

These situations were a rare occurrence, but were necessary due to crews being "stretched" on the ground.

Strategic water bomb runs are a necessity for some fires, with Capt Mitchell highlighting these planes can "get to where we can't" on the ground.

"We've done it about four or five different times, where we'd bomb for a couple of days.

"They would then take a break while they did some earth works, and strengthen any containment lines.

"They then do some more back burning, before saying we'd need another bomber."

 

The Gayndah fire crews at Gayndah airport filling water bombers during the 2019 fire season. Picture: Ron Mitchell.
The Gayndah fire crews at Gayndah airport filling water bombers during the 2019 fire season. Picture: Ron Mitchell.

Carrying up to 2500-3000L of water on each run, these fly overs save a lot of work on the ground, and allow external crews help firefighters on the ground.

For Capt Mitchell, Australian summers always bring bushfires for varying amounts of times.

"We always have a fire season, it either goes for six months or three weeks, and then we get rain.

"This summer however was long, hot, and dry."

The season 2018-19 was one he remembers quite vividly, attending fires in Gayndah, Mundubbera, and south along the Burnett Hwy.

"We had a couple of [alleged] arsonists lighting fires on us, and they would start in the early hours of the morning.

"All along the highway."

After the fire season concludes each year, Mr Mitchell says 70 per cent of their calls are to car crashes.

They also attend with medical emergencies with QAS, and emergency rescues.

One such rescue occurred in January, after several backpackers were left stranded following a flash flood in the North Burnett.

When asked what story has stuck with him over the years, he feels there's just too many to count.

"I've helped saved a couple lives, and it's a great thing to know that you've saved someone.

"Without your help, they wouldn't here today."

 

The Gayndah fire crews at Gayndah airport filling water bombers during the 2019 fire season. Picture: Ron Mitchell.
The Gayndah fire crews at Gayndah airport filling water bombers during the 2019 fire season. Picture: Ron Mitchell.

For crews out in rural areas, they work among us in their own careers.

They're on call, 24/7, 365 days a year, ready to drop everything to assist in an emergency situation.

Lieutenants Bradley Schiffke and Robert Geary aid Capt Mitchell in their crew of eleven fire fighters.

Mitchell Ballin, Leighton Kreis, Jeffrey Thompson, Brock Gray, Cameron Polzin, David Shepherd, Dean Mathiesen, and Brett Elsaesser all volunteer to help the community, whenever they're called.

This tight knit group of firefighters help protect the community, with the support of each other, and their families.

"We see a lot of things most people shouldn't, and it affects people different ways.

"Sometimes after a pretty nasty sort of night, you go home, and you have to be able to put that a side, and just not think about it.

"We support each other, and we always keep an eye out."

Joining the fireys in 1985, Capt Mitchell will be celebrating his 35th year next week.

He believes it has been a rewarding job, with modern training gifting new volunteers a variety of skill sets.

 

HERE TO HELP: Gayndah fire captain Ron Mitchell and former Area Commander Archie Andrews extinguishing fires in the region, 2017. Picture: File.
HERE TO HELP: Gayndah fire captain Ron Mitchell and former Area Commander Archie Andrews extinguishing fires in the region, 2017. Picture: File.

At the end of the day though, he first joined to help his community, and after 35 years, he wants to continue this.

"When people get into trouble, somebody has got to help them, and that's what we do."

For Red Balloon day, we thank all of our crews in the region, which include Mundubbera, Eidsvold, Monto, Biggenden, Goomeri, and Kilkivan.

Red Balloon Day is an event held annually with the aim to honour firefighters across Australia.

Be sure to say thanks for their tireless efforts in their firefighting careers.

If you'd like to donate to the cause, head here to the 'Thank You Fireys' website to purchase merchandise.

Proceeds from these sales will go to volunteer fire brigades Australia wide.


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