Kangaroo Island local legend and his firefighting rig

Local legend 84-year-old Robert A. Smith has fought bushfires on Kangaroo Island since the 1960s.

And his farm firefighting rig is a sight to behold, capable of pumping out 200 litres a minute from its bull-bar mounted nozzle, remotely operated by a joystick in the cab of his Landcruiser.

His is among as many as 150 farm firefighting rigs on the Island, all of whose operators are being asked to attend the registration day at Parndana Oval this Sunday.

Mr Smith took his rig to the last year's registration day to give a demonstration and says he still hasn't been shown a better set-up to fight fires.

Video of Robert and his rig

Mr Smith is a big advocate of getting to bushfires immediately after they are started by lightning, before they can spread.

"Hopefully we can do a better job of looking after the fires in the future," he said. "We can do things a lot better, if we get there early. They all start small."

Born and raised on a farm at Booleroo Centre in the state's Mid-North, he moved to KI in 1967, where he established a trucking business delivering fertiliser around the Island.

He would pick up the superphosphate from the ketches at American River and later the Troubridge and Seaway vessels at Kingscote, eventually building the "super shed" at Parndana.

He lives on his 1250-acre property at west of Vivonne Bay, where he runs a herd of cattle.

Fortunately, his house and the stock on his property survived the fire of January 9, 2020, although it more by chance as he was away helping to fight the fire at a neighbouring property.

"I like to practice on other people's properties," he said. "I thought if I could help save a half a farm, it was better than losing two farms."

He only got back the next day, finding the cattle surviving on a heavily grazed-out patch and his strategy to keep his house free of any surrounding vegetation also paying off.

He starting working on and perfecting his unique firefighting rig more than 20 years ago.

Robert A. Smith showing off his fire-fighting rig at last year's farm firefirefighting unit registration day at Parndana Oval. Photo: Stan Gorton

Robert A. Smith showing off his fire-fighting rig at last year's farm firefirefighting unit registration day at Parndana Oval. Photo: Stan Gorton

He started out with just a plain water tank on a trailer behind a tractor but then started working on getting the water to spray ahead instead of trailing behind.

"I've always been thinking how can I do things better and I still nobody had shown me anything better," he said.

His rig when fully loaded is meant for on-farm fire work is too heavy to travel on open roads with the trailer, as it can carry up to 4500 litres in both tanks.

Even with his nozzle throttled back that means he has about 20 minutes of spraying time before needing to refill.

He has always been heavily involved with fighting fires and one year he recalls being left behind at the Mouth Flat fire on the Dudley Peninsula after delivering water, due to a mix up in communication.

Some have credited him with saving the Vivonne Bay general store in the south coast fire of 2007.

He always keeps a couple of tins of baked beans in his cab, just in case he is stranded somewhere.

Again communications have improved, thanks in part to the two-way radios being handed out thanks to the Humans of Kangaroo Island project.

When you ask for a couple of farm fire units to back up your tanker... This photo was taken of a swarm of farm firefighting units was taken from back of the American River 34 CFS appliance during the fire at Redbanks in November 2020.

When you ask for a couple of farm fire units to back up your tanker... This photo was taken of a swarm of farm firefighting units was taken from back of the American River 34 CFS appliance during the fire at Redbanks in November 2020.

Farm unit registration

Farm firefighting unit advocate Sabrina Davis said the most important message was to get property owners and those with units there on Sunday.

The registration day runs from 10am to 1pm this Sunday, Nov. 28 at the Parndana Oval.

Please bring your vehicles and unit to get inspected by CFS staff for the yearly registration. Attendees will receive a welcome pack including your sticker.

"You will need this to be insured on the fire ground and have access during police road blocks," Mrs Davis said. "It is important that CFS and FFUs work together on the ground."

There will be a Western KI Lions sausage sizzle there as well and the Humans of Kangaroo Island project will hand out woollen blankets, first aid kits and leftover PPE kits from last year's fundraiser.

"Please come along for a fun morning and to make sure we are all heading prepared into the next fire season," she said.

Any questions and RSVP to Sabrina on 0439 670 494.

Comments

Discuss "KI local legend and his firefighting rig"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.