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The dual role of Western Power's bushfire volunteers

Every summer we are thankful for the thousands of emergency services personnel for putting up their hands to protect their fellow neighbours. This year was no different. The Wooroloo bushfire burnt through over 11,000 hectares and destroyed 86 homes. Without the brave efforts of so many volunteers working together with Western Australia’s career firefighters and other emergency services, the devastation would have been a lot worse.

Two of our employees, Glenn Rankine and Rudi James, know this first-hand: they were part of the bushfire response on both fronts.  

Glenn is part of the Karnup Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services Brigade that helped fight the Wooroloo blaze.

Glenn Rankine, Switching Assessor

Glenn has worked with at Western Power for 16 years and also volunteers with the Karnup Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services Brigade. In this volunteer role, he witnessed first-hand the devastation of the bushfire and saw flames at one location easily reached double the height of power poles, roughly 25 metres high.

“The conditions on the ground were tough and at one point we were deployed to Falls Heights to hold the line. The fire was so loud, it sounded like a jet engine going off and we were there with a hose trying to stop it - that’s part of the job,” Glenn said.

“As we were travelling between fire fronts, we saw Western Power setting up a temporary depot ready to rebuild and repair the network as soon as it was safe to go in. It really gave me a sense of purpose knowing there was a coordinated effort amongst all agencies.”

Helping his fellow neighbours has always been extremely important to Glenn, having served ten years in the Victorian State Emergency Service (SES) while also serving in the Royal Australian Navy.

“There’s a certain degree of pride and community engagement and responsibility and I thought I  should be helping my community in any way possible especially because I have the resources and skills.

“I’ve never been a firefighter before, so with my existing skills and now with my kids being older, I have the time to give back to the community.

“Emergency response is all about preparation, there’s a lot going on in the background people just don’t see. Western Power’s effort is no different, it’s great to see us doing everything we can to minimise the impact on our community. The crews at the temporary depot are putting in the hard yards for the community.

Above: Glenn is part of the Karnup Volunteer Bushfire Brigade that helped battle the Wooroloo bushfire.

Rudi James, Customer Service Centre Manager

A ten-year veteran with the West Swan Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, Rudi is a Captain and a Deputy Chief with the City of Swan. He also leads a tight-knit team of 45 Western Power colleagues focused on providing support to the Western Australian community. 

“When someone is busy fighting a fire, they can be solely focused on beating what’s in front of them. This is where the team and incident awareness is so important. Having managed many incidents, you are trained and have learnt the importance of looking at all aspects of the current and emerging situation and seek to plan accordingly. This approach and learning transfers across to my role at Western Power.”

“In Customer Service, given the information we have, we know that an event with significant impact is imminent. So we look at – and plan ahead for - what we may need to tackle the situation regardless of whether it be bushfires, storms, floods.  They all require appropriate resourcing, management and coordination of effort to seek to minimise the impact on our customers.”

“In devastating situations like the Wooroloo bushfire, the affected community usually understands that power restoration takes time and that the work needs to be done safely. The communities who live in these areas have a heightened level of awareness given the geography in which they live. This awareness makes working in a challenging environment a little easier.”

Western Power Customer Service Manager, Rudi James, smiling in front of his computer at work.    Western Power Customer Service Manager, Rudi James, working at his computer

“We collaborate with the broader business so that our Customer Service team is able to have access to timely information around things like progress of field crew activities through to what’s going on in the Network Operations Control Centre. This is important because, when the team receives numerous calls from our customers, the information we provide them can assist in supporting their decisions around any necessary action they need to take, or provides some comfort that we are getting things done.”

Rudi was recently fighting fires at Chittering, where he saw the important work of his Western Power colleagues firsthand.

“Western Power was an essential part of the emergency response to this fire. Our response crews knew where the poles were located, they made the situation safe, and kept us volunteer firies informed the whole time.”

“Through this hard work and communication, it was easier to battle the fire safely. Many of the firies saw the Western Power crews in action and said `they are certainly a well-oiled machine’,  which was fantastic to hear and made me quite proud of my Western Power colleagues."

Both Rudi and Glenn state that at the end of the day, they are volunteers who are hoping to make a difference. They don’t do it for the recognition, but because they value our community and enjoy giving back.

Find out more about our bushfire response and recovery effort.