Sunday 19 January 2020

Louth paramedic praises unpaid heroes of Aussie fires

Philip Walker
Philip Walker

Margaret Roddy

A paramedic, who worked for the ambulance service in Co Louth and now lives in New South Wales, says that normally resilient Australians are growing tired of the unprecedented bush fires which have razed an area half the size of Ireland.

Father of three Philip Walker worked from the ambulance base at the Louth County Hospital and the Cottage Hospital Drogheda for about eight years before moving to Australia in 2013.

The Derry native lives in New South Wales  with his wife Assumpta and their children Ralph (7), Gabriella (6) and Nathaniel (2).

'We live near Newcastle which is two hours north of Sydney,' says Philip who works as an intensive care paramedic.

As catastrophic fires blaze across Australia, Philip says the 'unpaid heroes' are the rural fire-fighters who are to the forefront in fighting the bush fires which have engulfed 

'These are volunteers, who all have other careers, GPs, bankers, butchers, bakers. There are men and women of all ages from 18 to 65, and they're driving 100s of miles to help communities in need.' 

'They are highly trained to work in these rural areas to fight bush fires and contain bush fires and protect property and life and farms,' he says.

'They are going out doing 15/20 hour days in extremely difficult and hazardous conditions, often just resting on the side of the road.'

Rain on Sunday brought some much needed relief, the country remains on high alert as soaring temperatures and a prolonged drought have resulted in these unprecedented fires which show no signs of abating. 

'Australians are extremely resilient and are used to bush fires but this year is unprecedented,' says Philip. 'It's very frightening and there's no end in sight. We've had no rain and everyone is getting extremely tired.'

In New South Wales alone, 20 people have lost their lives in the fires, thousands of homes have been destroyed and towns and cities are clouded in haze from the fires. 'We have lost an area the half the size of Ireland in these fires.'

Philip says he is seeing the effect of this in his work as an intensive care paramedic. 

'The smoke is toxic and particularly dangerous for the elderly, for children, and for anyone with respiratory conditions. We are seeing more of these cases than we normally would so the fires are going to impact on our services.'

He adds that paramedics are called upon to provide support for the fire officers who can become dehydrated and unwell.

As he spoke to The Argus last Friday, he said there was a small fire about 11kms away from his home.

'If there's smoke, you close the windows, put on the air conditioning and limit the amount of time you are outside,' he says.

Like all families in the area, he has bags packed in case the family are told to evacuate.

Dundalk woman Monica Zadro, who was involved in organising the Louth Sydney Association's participation in city's St Patrick's Day Parade, says 'It really is quite horrific to witness such devastation throughout the country and by no means is it over.'

The Castletown Road native who has been living in Sydney for many years, says her family rented an apartment on the East Coast over the holiday period  to get away from the smoke and the heat only to have friends move into their home as they were evacuated from their own property which fortunately was spared.

The Argus