HALF a dozen people in trademark Country Fire Authority overalls scramble aboard their red tanker, grapple with hoses and point them skyward. Adjusting nozzles, they turn fierce jets of water into spray, casting a wet umbrella-like canopy over truck and crew.
There are shrieks and banter as the team gets soaked. The truck rests in a paddock. It is barely summer, the grass still a greenish hue, the air cool.
It might feel a bit too early in the season to get fair dinkum. But the survival drill — employed in extreme circumstances of "entrapment", firey-speak for No Way Out — is a life-or-death exercise that every volunteer has had to master following the Linton tragedy a decade ago, when five Geelong firefighters perished as their vehicle was overrun by wildfire.
"That's one drill that you want to know inside out; instinctively," says a member of the small brigade at Clonbinane, north of Whittlesea, in tinder-dry central Victoria.
By the look of things, they know the routine, this eclectic group of farmers, "tradies", factory workers and so forth — men and women, a few teenagers too, who band together to protect their community and others further afield, and who turn out all hours to attend anything from routine traffic incidents to the conflagrations that characterise an Australian summer.
"I guess it has been through the misfortune of others that these safety measures have been developed," says Clonbinane captain Ross Hibbert, ticking off the drill.
Clonbinane is typical of the 950 rural brigades that help make up the CFA's 58,000 volunteer army and who find themselves readying for a summer portentous of extreme danger, conditions similar to those prevailing in the lead-up to the catastrophic Ash Wednesday fires, 26 years ago.
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