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Fighting fire with fire

We will all remember 2020 as a year of global upheaval in the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic, but for our colleagues in Australia, it was a year born in flames. 

The 2019–20 Australian bushfire season was one of the worst and most tragic on record, burning and spreading with catastrophic speed, scale and intensity. The fires destroyed more than 18 million hectares of land and nearly 6,000 buildings, including thousands of homes. In addition to human fatalities, many millions of animals were killed and injured. Local communities will feel the repercussions for many years to come.  

Many Serco colleagues were caught directly in the crisis – protecting loved ones and property, fleeing the destruction and, sadly, suffering terrible losses. 

For others, supporting the relief efforts was a natural extension of their roles, such as our Fleet Marine Services team who helped mobilise the Royal Australian Navy, and our Australian Defence Force (ADF) Health Services colleagues who helped reopen military bases for evacuations and other disaster relief activity. 

Many put their own lives at risk to combat the fires face-to-face through voluntary firefighting. 

Angeline Clapp, an Administration Officer from the Serco-operated Acacia Prison, travelled 4,000km from Perth in Western Australia to Uralla in New South Wales (NSW) to serve in the voluntary firefighter crew, ‘Team Bravo’. Angeline has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 15 years and is currently 1st Lieutenant and secretary of her Brigade. Team Bravo spent five long days out on the fire grounds, getting little food and sleep between shifts. They managed to contain the fire they were assigned to, fighting continuously across an area of more than 1,000 hectares. 

Our Reservist colleagues were also deeply involved, responding to the first compulsory call up of Reservists in Australian history.  

Cindy Devereux, Acting Compliance Manager at the Serco-operated Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation in Queensland, was selected to help manage the NSW mobilisation of Defence Force Reservists. Working from the Holsworthy Army Barracks in Sydney, Cindy enabled the deployment of nearly 800 Reservists to defend communities from the fires and support them in the aftermath. 

Those unable to assist directly contributed through fundraising and donations. 

Karen Flinn, our Talent Acquisition Specialist supporting the ADF Health Services Contract in Adelaide, set up her own relief initiative: Backpacks for Bushfires. Her idea was to help affected families by providing aid that would enable them to continue sending their children to school during the crisis. People were encouraged to purchase a backpack, fill it with school essentials and drop it off for donation. The scheme caught the public imagination, expanding in reach from local to regional to national at an incredible rate, with television news coverage and support from businesses and celebrities. Around 6,000 backpacks were donated from across Australia, with the excess given to a charity supporting vulnerable families and children. 

“The bravery and generosity displayed by our colleagues, individually and collectively, was deeply moving,” said Mark Irwin, then AsPac CEO. “Everyday excellence on behalf of Australian citizens and our communities is what Serco strives to achieve, and the heroic actions of our teams, often in the face of great difficulty and unimaginable danger, highlights in perfect clarity that each of us stands ready to serve. I am immensely proud of all that we do and, more than ever, the people who make it happen.”