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Brittany Bickford - thank you!

18 February 2020
Brittany Bickford is a Rural Bank Agribusiness Relationship Assistant living and working in Swan Hill. On Saturday 4 January Brittany was deployed to Omeo.

This is her story.

After clearing it with my manager and regional manager, I sent my name in. At 3pm on Friday 3rd January I received a phone call to say that I had been accepted on the deployment. We left for Omeo the following morning on a bus via Melbourne.

Visibility was too poor to fly us in, or drive a more direct route, due to the smoke and uncleared roads going over Mt Hotham.

Our strike team of 23 consisted of volunteers from across the district. Members came from Hopetoun, Yarrawalla, Kerang, Murrayville, Wedderburn, Ouyen and more.

After collecting the team along the way, and a long day’s drive, we pulled up at Swan Reach for the night. Known as tent city due to the hundreds of tents lined up, this is where people assisting with the fires sleep.

Our group were then fed in the large mess tent and we met the American and Canadian firefighters, who had just arrived on the fire ground.

The next morning we were assigned our fireground area, collected our trucks, and received a briefing on conditions and the tasks we would be performing. This is where we got to see our first glimpse of the destruction the fire had caused the previous night around the areas of Omeo and Cobungra.

My truck and crew of four people was tasked to a farm that had had the fire rip through their farmland the night before. The farmers had lost almost all their feed in the paddocks, their shed full of hay, most of their shedding. Miraculously, the stock loss was only one calf.
We were able to provide the family help in putting out any remaining fire. This consisted of tree stumps still smouldering and a series of power poles that had been burnt and fallen.

This is where I saw the amazing work of the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners.

As we were blacking out on this property, three semi-trucks rolled into the farm full of hay that had been donated to fire victims. This was amazing, not only to see this family getting help but also that it was within 24 hours of the fire front coming through.

Our next two days were spent doing further check-ins with locals who had decided to stay and defend their homes. These welfare checks were very rewarding, giving us the chance to meet the community and be of assistance in more ways than just putting out fire.

Our strike team had people who, in their day jobs, were plumbers and farm workers. We were able to use these skills to get water back into houses where pipes had been burnt through and feed cattle. This was as well as providing emotional support to getting back to ‘normal life’ now that their crisis point had passed.

My truck was also tasked with following a dozer creating a fire break in the bush surrounding the town. This was great to get access to any fire still burning deeper than our trucks hoses were able to reach from normal road access. It meant we could help lessen the fire risk to the town when the fire conditions worsened later in the week. This is where we also used a smaller ‘slip on’ vehicle (a Landcruiser ute with firefighting gear on it) to gain further access where our large truck was unsuitable.

At the end of our three days of work, the locals were very appreciative and thanked us for all the work we had done working with local CFA crews and assisting their community in their time of need.

Overall, the experience to be a part of a huge combined effort to help our neighbours was very rewarding and I’ve come back to work with a huge sense of pride for what we did and how we have helped the amazing communities of Cobungra and Omeo.

Collage of images: Brittany in a fire truck, firetruck filling with water from the creek, a volunteer working on a burnt tree.
Collage of four images: Burnt countryside, Volunteers with their fire trucks, two emergency services vehicles on road through burnt bushland, and tent city.

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