Volunteer firefighter explains why being 14 weeks pregnant won't stop her battling Australia wildfires
Kat Robinson Williams has been a volunteer firefighter for more than a decade
In the first few months of her pregnancy, Kat Robinson Williams had a question for her doctor: could she join the firefighters as they battled the blazes ravaging Australia's east coast?
The fires have wiped out a million hectares of farmland and bush over the past week, destroying hundreds of homes. At least four people have died.
Robinson Williams has served as a volunteer firefighter with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service for over a decade.
She told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch that she couldn't just sit back while the fires raged. Here is part of their conversation.
Tell me about what you've seen.
I've been seeing flame heights five to 10 metres in the air. Winds are gusting at 30-plus kilometres an hour, 50-plus kilometres an hour in some areas. Spot fires just happening ... and police running around frantically trying to evacuate everyone out. Ambulances on the ground making sure everyone's okay, and firefighters just everywhere. It's been absolutely insane.
You've just come off a three-day rotation of fighting the fires. What was it like having to go at that for three days in a row?
It was full on. It's not my longest rotation that I've had, but it's been the longest one this season so far. We haven't even hit summer yet, and the worst is still yet to come.
Why is it so bad? What are the conditions like?
It's so dry. We haven't had rain — proper rain — in five years. The winds are gusting so high, the humidity is really low.
And just the sheer amount of fuel on the ground, because we haven't been able to put hazard reduction burns in, or prescribed burns in to get rid of the excess fuel.
The time period between each fire season has gotten shorter and shorter each year, and it's just making it harder and harder for us to put in prescribed burns so that we don't have this issue.
I've covered forest fires before. I know how hard a job it is physically, how exhausting it is wearing that gear in the heat and the smoke. Tell me about what the experience has been like for you.
It's actually not been too bad; our gear is not excessively heavy, which is nice. It's designed to reflect a lot of the heat.
The worst part is wearing the mask actually, to make sure I don't get any smoke inhalation issues. But at the same time, it protects me. It protects the baby, and that's the biggest thing.
You just mentioned that you are pregnant. How is that affecting you, if at all?
It's not. I'm fighting fires the same way I did before I was pregnant. My team, my crew is behind me. The Rural Fire Service has backed me 100 per cent. My doctors have said if you wear the correct [personal protection equipment], you're fine.
I've read that you're getting some backlash for being out there fighting the fire while you're pregnant. What do you make of that?
Honestly, everyone has their opinion, and from what I understand, it's coming from a genuine place of concern. And that's fine.
But as I said, I've cleared it with my doctors. So, you know, everyone is just kind of wanting myself and the baby to be safe, and that's okay.
Why is it so important for you to be out there fighting the fire?
Because it's what I've always done. I've been doing this for over 10 years.
The community has given me so much over the years. And I've always wanted to give back, even when I was a little kid.
My grandmother actually made me a really cute toddler firefighting outfit, for me to run around at the farm. And, you know, my grandmother's still a firefighter of over 50 years. My mum over 30, my dad over 25. My uncle over 25 years as well. And my brother and I have been doing it for over 10 each, and it's just something we've always done and are going to continue to do regardless.
It's a way of life for your family. I'm wondering, is there an image or a moment of of this fire season — which, as you say, is still in the early stages — that is going to stay with you?
Probably having my husband there on the fire-line with me, that would be the biggest thing. Him and his brothers are [firefighters] as well. And having my whole family there and supportive is absolutely amazing. And having him on the fire-line next to me, at that big fire at North Rothbury, it was just good. It was good to have him there.
Are you going back in soon?
I'm on standby until further notice. So if the pager goes off, I'm going in.
All right, Kat, whatever happens, please take care of yourself and your baby.
I definitely will. That is my biggest priority, is my baby's safety.
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Danielle Carr. Q&A edited for length and clarity.