Burning desire

An appliance operator who goes to blazes

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

LISA Catty refers to her work vehicle as an “appliance”, but that’s in no way disparaging of what you might think is a characterless little hatchback. ‘Appliance’ is the correct term for the 15-tonne fire trucks that Catty routinely drives in her work as a firefighter at the City of Sydney fire station.

To Catty, 39, eight-metre-long trucks are little hatchbacks. She’s one of very few female firefighters in Australia accredited to drive the ‘Bronto’, a 30-tonne Scania P420 with a 44-metre ladder platform. “It’s just like going from a 4WD to a little mini car,” she says of the smaller units.

“The Bronto is a lot harder to drive than a normal appliance. It’s double the weight, it’s harder to get around corners and you’ve got the booms to consider. Although people do tend to get out of my way a lot quicker!”

Firefighting was one of a number of careers that Catty looked into. “I had a sporting background at school and I wanted a career where I’d have to keep pushing myself. And I wanted something where, when we turn up, people are happy to see us. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for the Police.”

She was one of only 20 or so women who joined in 1995, starting as a part-time ‘retained’ firefighter. After eight years, she became fulltime – after five attempts. “It is extremely competitive; you have 8000 people applying for only 100-200 positions.”

When she’s not rostered to drive, Catty’s on regular firefighting duties, which also includes testing and maintaining equipment and endless training. Carrying 25-30kg of ‘turnout gear’ at a fire scene sure helps with the fitness.

Catty well remembers her first call-out as the ‘motor driver’ under lights and sirens. “I was nervous and excited at the same time, because it’s totally different from being on the back of a truck. It’s a big responsibility.”

No two trips are the same. “You don’t know what the road conditions are going to be like; it could be peak hour, it could be raining, the roads get greasy. You’ve got to change your mindset.”

At the scene, the driver usually stays with the appliance, takes charge of connecting and pumping the water and sets up triage areas.

In the Bronto, the driver has to assess the ground’s stability, set up the outriggers, look for power lines and sit in the pulpit to oversee the ladder operation.

“It’s all part of the thrill,” Catty says.

“Getting the crew safely to the scene, tackling the traffic, having a back-up plan, thinking about how to park it so as to protect people.

It’s like PlayStation in a way – things are always coming at you.”

SEEING RED

“The best thing people can do for us is slow down a bit and look in your mirrors, don’t just stop – we will always indicate where we want to go,” says fire appliance driver Lisa Catty.

“And when we stop at lights, we leave a gap in front in case we get a call. So please don’t jump in there.”