Written by Lizzie Macaulay
I’ve been doing this column for a while now. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people and done some incredible things so far.
Few assignments, if any, filled me with as much excitement and dread as this month’s.
You see, I would never classify myself as brave. Ever.
I’m afraid of pretty much everything.
I’m not bold, or daring or even particularly selfless.
So being presented with the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of a workplace full of people who completely embody these characteristics was an actual dream come true.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of heroes and heroes in training?!
If you haven’t guessed what I was up to this month by now, I dropped in on the Hervey Bay Emergency Services Cadets, who were training out of the Torquay Fire Station.
I arrived just as the dusky twilight was setting in, and a group of navy-uniformed men, women and teens were assembling, ready for an evening of action and excitement.
This night wasn’t just a ‘normal night’ for these lucky cadets. We were all fortunate enough to be participating in a rescue simulation designed for training actual firefighters.
I was keen as mustard, it has to be said. It was clear from the energy stirring amongst the group that I wasn’t the only one, either.
In teams of three in full rescue gear – breathing apparatus and all – we were to enter a pitch-black, smoke-filled shipping container in order to search for ‘people’ who may be trapped and retrieved.
(Fear not, no people were harmed in the making of this simulation – just some very compliant rescue dummies…)
Before the main event kicked off, we gathered for a briefing. Each of the Adult Leaders spent some time talking to the group, reminding them of the expectations and responsibilities attached to such a unique experience.
I was taken by the reverence these youngsters had for the whole experience, and the attention they paid to the task at hand.
The moment that most struck me was the discussion of ‘challenge by choice’ by Local Cadet Coordinator, Angela Wilkins. Suddenly the joking stopped and the air took on a solemness as participants contemplated how far they wanted to push their own comfort zones during the night’s proceedings.
Admittedly, I was pondering the question as well.
Just how far was this scaredy-cat willing to go?!
With the briefing complete, the group reconvened around our custom-made ‘rescue container’.
Immediately the program’s most senior cadet, B’Jae Jansen stepped in to get things moving by sorting and setting up the breathing apparatus and coordinating the team. B’Jae had a calm authority about him and it was abundantly clear he would not be getting rattled by the evening’s activities. Supporting him were leaders Sonja Gorman and Bec Kruger.
I took the chance to don my distinctive canary yellow ‘rescue apparel’ and chat to a few of the friendly people around me.
I’d love to say I was ‘just doing my job’ here, but the conversation was certainly taking the edge off my nerves which, I’m a little ashamed to admit, were building.
I got to chat with Steve, the retired police officer, recently arrived in good old Hervey Bay and looking to put his skills to good use.
Then with Craig, who currently serves as a QFES Inspector based out of Maryborough Fire and Rescue station.
There was just something about both of these two highly experienced, completely humble gents that I was fascinated by. Both were so friendly, calm and confident. I got the impression that literally nothing would phase them. Given their careers of choice, that was probably an understatement.
Another gent to add to this illustrious crew was firefighter Mick, who had near-hypnotic powers for setting the cadets (and myself) at ease, and getting us to push just a touch beyond our comfort zones.
I’d be remiss at this point of mentioning some of the key players if I didn’t circle back to coordinator, Angela. I’ve known Ange for a little while now as a training buddy at the gym. And while I had previously had a tiny glimpse of her fortitude, to watch her in her element was truly impressive.
I’ve never seen anyone in such complete command of a room before, and so effortlessly confident. As she spoke, it was written all over her face that while she meant business, she cared so deeply for her charges – that they learn, and grow, and become everything they have the potential to become.
She even managed to stifle a laugh as I put on the helmet she so kindly lent me back-to-front. What a gem…
So, fully equipped in firefighter gear and ready to have my turn at ‘rescuing’ someone, I was introduced to Rob, one of our local firies who happened to be on shift helping out with the training.
Once again, I was struck by Rob’s calmness, and how it seemed to be rubbing off on me – if he wasn’t concerned about the job at hand, then I didn’t need to be either, right?!
As we approached the door to the container, I had one ear on Rob’s instructions and the rest of my brain in ‘don’t panic’ mode. I was conscious my breathing apparatus had limited supply and I found I was preoccupied by the thought, ‘what if I run out?’. And yes, even though logic and reason told me I was in a simulation only, I was still labouring under the possibility I might run out of air.
What can I say, I’m a natural catastrophiser…
I crawled into the dark, cramped, smoke-filled space and started to feel around.
The walls were slick and I clung to my thermal imaging camera like my life depended on it. The reality, of course, wasn’t lost on me. Firefighters like Rob had faced plenty of situations where his life had relied on a camera like that.
I was grateful for the party smoke, and the experienced company as I let my mind wander to what it would mean to be in this situation for real.
I fumbled and bumped my way around the space, feeling my way along, keeping a hand out for ‘people’ to find, catching my oxygen cylinder on the occasional something or other.
The experience had its unsettling moments, but as I finally grabbed hold of my ‘rescue person’, the sense of achievement was palpable.
I had only been in that room for a few minutes, but I was equally happy to be getting out, a successful rescue under my belt, no less.
As I left the container, I managed to resist the urge to high-five everyone I came across and fling my very expensive breathing equipment off.
I composed myself and got back into my civvies to watch the subsequent groups pass through.
It struck me as I soaked in the scene what an incredible leg-up the cadets initiative offered its participants for a successful future.
Whether they had intentions of a career in any sort of emergency services, or simply needed help with their confidence and social skills, this weekly gathering was sure to make a huge impact.
Aside from the hands-on week-to-week technical experience, they also have the opportunity to participate in Certificate II Public Safety (SES), Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award, Emergency Services Cadets Games, National Fire Championships and ESCape Week, just to name a few.
To think that all this happens for FREE (for participants), is fairly miraculous.
My only regret is that my rambunctious toddlers aren’t yet old enough to join.
If you’re local and have children between the ages of 12 and 17, I couldn’t more highly recommend the Hervey Bay Emergency Services Cadets initiative.
Run by a bevy of incredible, experienced, caring volunteers, your kids are sure to get an exhilarating hit of reality mixed in with a boost to their confidence, leadership skills, community-mindedness and sense of kinship and belonging with their peers.
In a world that suffers from disconnectedness and ‘me first’ attitudes, the Hervey Bay Emergency Services Cadets seems to be the perfect antidote.