Kylie Wurst, like thousands of her volunteer firefighter colleagues across the country, was deployed to assist the exhausted and overwhelmed local emergency services personnel fighting the unpredictable and ferocious bushfires in Australia in 2019/2020.
Kylie was deployed on two separate occasions to Kangaroo Island in South Australia, where two separate bushfires had broken out in less than a week, and both were extreme in their speed, behaviour and devastation.
The conditions Kylie faced were like nothing she had ever experienced before. The bushfires, which burned for weeks, consumed half of the island, more than 2,000 square kilometres. Two men lost their lives, dozens of homes were destroyed, thousands of livestock perished, and stunning wilderness areas which once teemed with wildlife were turned to ash.
‘It was certainly humbling to see how much damage fire could do so quickly. It was the first time I’d attended a fire that had burned on such a massive scale. The number of dead wildlife I witnessed is something I’m not soon going to forget.’
An additional challenge facing the small island was how, and where, the additional emergency services personnel who were flooding into the community would be accommodated. The Humanihut Field Infrastructure System (HFIS) was established by the South Australian State Emergency Service, initially at Parndana but then had to be redeployed to Kingscote airport when the Parndana site was evacuated due to the unprecedented and erratic fire behaviour.
With no existing infrastructure at either site, having all the components and utilities integrated into the System allowed for easy deployment, and meant that the HFIS was able to work independently without mains water, power and wastewater infrastructure.
For Kylie and her colleagues who were accommodated in huts, rather than the tents which were situated adjacent to the HFIS at the Basecamp, it meant that they were able to achieve adequate rest between shifts, and even had the luxury of hot showers, substantially assisting with fatigue management.
‘I was fortunate enough to get a bed in a Humanihut for both my deployments. I especially appreciated it when the weather turned particularly cold and wet one night.
‘There were so many benefits of being accommodated in the Humanihuts. Having the air conditioning/heating was a nice bonus I hadn’t expected to have while over there. Being able to shut the door and cut out most of the outside noise, together with the block-out window coverings helped to be able to get to sleep quickly and comfortably. But having somewhere dry and warm to sleep after a long day out on the truck was probably top of the list.’
After completing each exhausting shift on the fireground, for Kylie, having the ability to have a hot shower when she returned to Basecamp was greatly appreciated.
‘The shower blocks were good; simple but functional, and just what we needed. There were lots of them, so I never had to wait to get into one when I needed it. The water pressure was good, and the water was hot.’
Although Kylie worked day shift for both of her deployments, those who were working night shift also benefited greatly from being accommodated in the HFIS.
‘I noticed they (the Camp Managers) did try to put all the night shift workers together in the same huts, and signs were put up to let other people nearby know that people were sleeping during the day.’
Although there were some teething issues in relation to the establishment and organization of the Basecamp as a whole for her first deployment, as you would expect for a site arranging accommodation for such a large influx of emergency service personnel at one time, Kylie’s second deployment ran smoothly.
‘Things were really organized as far as being allocated beds and mealtimes. We did have some fun getting back home with a few changes to plans on exactly how we were to get back to the mainland, but we got there eventually.’
Being easily maintained and almost flawless for the duration of the deployment, the HFIS allowed the site to run almost seamlessly as personnel moved in and out of the campground, and the overwhelming response to the Humanihut System was more than impressive, and greatly appreciated by the personnel who utilized it.
Graeme Wynwood, Manager Operations Support at the South Australian State Emergency Service, made the following observations in comparison to tents and prefabricated accommodation alternatives.
‘The HFIS provides air-conditioning, comfortable bedding, significant noise reduction, and the ability to have a darkened daytime sleeping environment. These attributes greatly assisted our personnel in managing fatigue and obtaining adequate rest between shifts.’
For more information, go to www.humanihut.com