When RFS volunteer Ruth Ranger was called out to a house fire last year, little did she know that it was not just another routine callout. It was the home of her good friend, Fee Coulsen that was burning to the ground!
“When we arrived, smoke was billowing out of the house from underneath the eaves,” Ruth told us. The smell of the smoke was horrific and as Ruth and her three person crew got out the big hoses to fight the blaze, she knew that the stakes were high. “We really fought for it,” she told us.
Luckily, Fee and her son who were inside the house at the time narrowly escaped being engulfed by the scorching flames. But not everything could be saved. Once the flames were out, they clawed through the wreckage only to realise that the kitchen and living room had been completely destroyed. Precious family photographs and treasured possessions had been burnt to ashes.
“It really gets Fee down that she lost all of that,” Ruth told us. We can only imagine the heartbreak of having irreplaceable memories destroyed by fire and watching the devastating suffering of one your dear friends. Ruth was so moved by the magnitude of Fee’s loss that the day after the fire, she was back at Fee’s place to begin helping with the cleanup. The smell of smoke still clung to the unwashed laundry so Ruth put on a load of washing and began helping Fee to put her life back together.
“I knew I needed to show up because I’ve been through the experience of recovering from a house fire too,” Ruth revealed to us. “More than 20 years ago, when my children were still small, we had an electrical fire in our ceiling that burnt the house down.” The trauma and devastation of that experience has inspired Ruth to be there for her friend as she recovers.
Just imagine facing yet another hurdle just as you’re beginning to get back on your feet. “Going through the insurance process is brutal,” Ruth explained to us. “You have to stand there and account for every half-packet of food in your pantry for the assessor.”
Ruth has bonded with Fee over the difficulties of dealing with insurance in the months since the fire. It’s a tedious, time-consuming process when all that Fee wants to do is be able to move on with her life. Luckily, Ruth is there for her friend when nobody else is.
“Friendship and fellowship is so important when you live in a rural community,” Ruth tells us. Together with Fee, she meets up with other women from the area at the local pub for a meal and a chat. Being able to connect with each other and share their joys and frustrations is enormously helpful for the women.
Ruth saw so much value in that friendship that when she hosted Outback Links volunteers in November, she invited them along. “It’s really important to do things with the volunteers when they’re here as they work so hard,” she told us. She took them out for a pamper day along with women from the local community. The day provided some welcome relief from the hardship and devastation that they face on a daily basis.
The farmers share with the volunteers that the support of Outback Links volunteers is an absolute ray of light that makes a real difference in their lives.
This article is adapted from the February 2021 edition of Frontier News.