The clip went viral as it gave a glimpse of the terrifying, life threatening conditions faced by crews on the fire ground.
In the longer version, an officer is heard to say over the radio that he will find somebody to “come back and help” the stranded crew.
A voice inside the Wyoming truck can then be heard to say “he’s going to try to get us to go and help him,” to which another crew member replied: “Nah f—, we can’t boys. This is a f—ing – we haven’t got a halo, we got nothing.”
A halo is understood to be a reference to a protective feature on firefighting trucks.
The trucks were part of Strike Team Golf, a four-truck Fire and Rescue NSW convoy that was despatched from a marshalling point at HMAS Albatross on New Years’ Eve in response to a request for assistance from the Rural Fire Service.
The trucks – known as urban pumpers – arrived at the turn off to Hames Road, at Parma, southwest of Nowra, shortly before 3pm when the South Coast fires in that area were at their height.
Temperatures were well above 40 degrees and the wind was fierce. The convoy had only got about a kilometre down Hames Road when a southerly wind shift drove towering flames towards them, forcing the lead truck to turn around and head back to the main road.
A third truck also managed to limp back to the main turnoff. However the two remaining trucks, STP 48, with mainly a Central Coast crew, and a second truck from Lawson, were immobilised because of heat affecting the brake and air mechanisms of the vehicles.
STP48 caught fire and its four crew members, led by captain Kayle Barton, were initially unable to leave their vehicle – despite toxic fumes starting to enter the cabin – because of the fire-front passing over them.
“We thought we were dead, 110 per cent thought we were gone” one of the STP 48 crew members, 28-year-old Jayden Ewans, told the Herald in a recent interview. “We did not think we were going to survive and neither did the others.”
Mr Barton said it was the worst conditions he had encountered in 14 years of firefighting: “We can’t move the vehicle, we can’t get out of the vehicle at that point, how are we going to get out of this situation?”
Mr Barton made the difficult decision 10 minutes later to brave the aftermath of the fire-front and to lead the crew out of the truck, retrieving breathing apparatus carried on the side of the vehicle.
The STP48 crew then donned the apparatus and found the second immoblised truck a short distance away. That crew also donned breathing apparatus and all eight men managed to battle an ember storm and walk to safety.
One source said yesterday: “Fire and Rescue teaches that you have to make sure you look after your crew; but it also teaches you look after every firefighter.” The source said the situation had been extremely dangerous for all involved and snap decisions had to be made.
Another source said that the pumpers were not equipped for off-road duties and did not have the protective features – such as retractable heat shields and external spray systems – that Rural Fire Service trucks and Fire and Rescue heavy tankers had.
Leighton Drury, state secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees Union, told the Herald “the greatest concern to me is not necessarily the footage, it’s why they were sent there in the first place and why those decisions were made.
“Those trucks were not equipped to withstand those conditions.”
Both Mr Ewans and Mr Barton said everyone inside their truck remained calm. When speaking to the Herald last week, neither made any criticism of any other member of the convoy.
Several weeks ago Fire and Rescue NSW released edited video from the lead Wyoming truck which showed the atrocious conditions on the day.
A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesperson said the fire season had seen “a number of unprecedented and extraordinary situations.”
“As a result, we are currently undertaking after action reviews for all its bushfire operations over the 2019/20 season,” the spokesperson said.
A SafeWork NSW spokesperson said it was aware of the incident and was “making contact” with Fire and Rescue NSW.
“Due to the ongoing bushfire crisis and Fire and Rescue’s continued efforts to support the community, we will commence preliminary investigations at a later stage,” she said.
Carrie Fellner is an investigative reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.