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11 Dec, 2019 11:38

Australian firefighters tackling ‘mega’ blaze crowdfund for own safety masks

Australian firefighters tackling ‘mega’ blaze crowdfund for own safety masks

Firefighters in New South Wales (NSW), Australia launched an urgent crowdfunding appeal to purchase better safety equipment after finding that state-issued face masks weren’t sufficient protection in the field.

“Our brigade has been desperately trying to protect homes and property – completely exhausted – and I’m horrified to say this, using NSW Rural Fire Service-issued dust masks to protect our airways,” Joe Arena, treasurer of Copacabana Rural Fire Brigade, told ABC Central Coast on Tuesday. 

“In defence of the RFS, these are unprecedented conditions, on a scale no one could have anticipated, but we have no choice but to go out and fight fire with what we have.”

The volunteer crew is among the first responders tackling the ‘mega fire’ which formed when several bushfires burning north of Sydney combined, creating a blaze covering more than 320,000 hectares. 

At least six people have been killed and more than 700 homes destroyed since the fires began in September, while around 2.7 million hectares of land has been burned. The blaze has become so severe that air pollution in some parts of nearby Sydney reached 12 times the ‘hazardous’ level this week.

Arena said the crew launched their crowdfunding appeal with the aim of buying one mask per seat on their brigade. His appeal for public support came on the same day Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected the idea of paying volunteer firefighters. Morrison said: “Yes they’re tired, but they also want to be out there defending their communities,” adding that the issue is not being considered by the government.

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In a message posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Copacabana Rural Fire Brigade thanked everyone who responded to their face mask appeal, saying “we are humbled by the generosity of the community.” The group said it had already met its own target and would put any extra funds towards buying masks for neighboring firefighting crews.

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