When the Sampson Flat fire tore through eight small peri-urban communities northeast of Adelaide in January 2015 there was one particular group of volunteers working around the clock to help affected animals and wildlife — South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM).
The fire was the most destructive bushfire in South Australia for 30 years, burning 12,569 hectares of public and private land and destroying 24 homes, 146 other structures, five businesses and much livestock.
Over 3500 firefighters battled the blaze, and some 70 volunteers with SAVEM responded to the needs of animals and wildlife.
During an eight week activation at Sampson Flat, SAVEM received more than 750 calls for assistance and treated over 1000 animals including companion animals, horses, livestock and wildlife. The most common injuries treated were burns to feet and hooves, and smoke inhalation.
The not-for-profit group is made up of veterinarians, veterinary nurses, wildlife carers and others with specialist skills like information technology and logistics who volunteer their time, knowledge and skills in emergencies like the Sampson Flat fire.
Understanding the complexities of bushfires and how best to respond to them is essential to SAVEM volunteers and is the reason why SAVEM Commander, Dr Rachel Westcott, attended the sixth International Fire Behaviour and Fuels Conference in May.
Rachel said the conference was a valuable opportunity to share information globally about wildland fire behaviour and fuels.
“We were able to explore the relationship between the physical science of fire behaviour and human behaviour, and decision-making in managing and responding to fire events,” she said.
“This is very useful when training volunteers and making sure everyone conducts themselves safely.”
“I was also able to form linkages with delegates from other states across a range of fire-related disciplines, where there are opportunities to work on projects which can be mutually beneficial.”
Some of the topics covered at the conference included fire behaviour and fire behaviour predictions, fire suppression, incident management, risk management, community engagement, changing environmental triggers, indigenous cultural burning and climate change.
“The learnings from the conference embeds and consolidates our commitment to being at the cutting edge of fire research and practice, and doing so safely,” Rachel said.
“We’re always looking to build our capability and capacity which ultimately delivers better outcomes and brings increased confidence to the communities we serve.”
Rachel’s attendance at the conference was funded by a City of Onkaparinga Community Training and Development Fund grant.
“SAVEM is sincerely grateful and appreciative of the support of the City of Onkaparinga,” Rachel said.
Grants of up to $1500 are available for volunteer members of community groups based within the council area to access training and skill development opportunities.
City of Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson said the Community Training and Development Fund is an opportunity to recognise and support the work of community groups.
“We have a strong tradition of supporting local groups to provide their members with training and development and we recognise the value this provides to our communities,” Mayor Thompson said.
Grant applications are open throughout the year but once the budget has been expended, no further applications will be considered.
For more information on the Community Training and Development Fund including guidelines and how to apply, visit council’s website here.
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