By Melissa Sheil
A TEAM of unsung heroes were recognised by the State Government last week in awards that acknowledge their efforts building community resilience during disasters and emergencies.
Not-for-profit Emergency Animal Support Evacuation Western Australia, (EASE WA) won the Community Award category at the 22nd Resilient Australia WA Awards for its tireless efforts ensuring the safety and recovery of thousands of animals during the Wooroloo bushfire.
Bullsbrook resident and EASE WA founder Dusty Murray-Whelan said her team of four consisting of herself, Kim Perry, Jack Barker and Tiffany Farlow didn’t finish working until months after the fire was put out.
“We started about 20 minutes after the fire started and was declared an emergency and didn’t stop for a second until around May, three months later,” she said.
“The four of us were tag-teaming and only really getting sleep when we had to because we knew the consequences of us not being around to help.
“It was a very tiring and very emotional three months but at the time we put our own feelings and emotional states to the side, and just made sure the animals were ok.
“Though there was a lot of coffee and energy drinks involved to sustain us.”
Ms Murray-Whelan estimates they helped in the aftermath recovery, including rehoming, feeding and liaising donations for, more than a thousand animals, but can’t put a number on how many they helped initially evacuated to safety.
“It’s very hard to say how many animals we helped evacuate, as we’d be dealing with properties that had 200 sheep on it, owners with three cats, two dogs and a flock of chickens, and then someone with several floats of horses,” she said.
“You can’t keep count.
“Really though it’s about if we can save lives, and afterwards taking a little of the pressure away from the grieving people who have lost everything who don’t need to be dealing with how they can feed their animals or where to put them.”
Ms Murray-Whelan said the recognition was great but a bit baffling.
“I can’t comprehend that what we do is anything special, we just do what we have to do and what has to be done.
“We’ve been doing this for almost ten years and have been involved with almost every major bushfire in WA but would never think to expect an award or recognition.”
Currently, EASE WA is working on a safety series encouraging preparedness and training for animals during emergency evacuation situations.
The City of Kalamunda was also acknowledged in the Local Government category of the awards, receiving a commendation for its video series sharing practical suggestions dealing with both large and small animals in emergency events.
“Encouraging the community to be self-reliant and self-sufficient when faced with an emergency is hugely empowering and assists in building a more resilient community,” City of Kalamunda Mayor Margaret Thomas said.
“Already this year, WA has seen its fair share of emergency events with the Wooroloo bushfire and Cyclone Seroja in the Midwest testing our resolve.
“And this just goes to show, while you cannot stop an emergency event you can prepare and do your best to minimise many risks.”