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Evacuated from their homes but they still went to work

Care Services Community Stories

In January 2020, bushfires ravaged the NSW South Coast. With the largest aged care presence in the region, IRT faced a catastrophic bushfire threat across seven sites. In this series of stories, we celebrate the courage, resilience and leadership of our employees, who kept our centres operating and our residents safe.

18 February 2020
Debbie McDougall and Frank Illes at IRT Dalmeny. (Credit: Andy Zakeli)

IRT Dalmeny care workers Debbie McDougall and Frank Illes were both evacuated from their homes as fire threatened the Eurobodalla region over the weekend of January 4 and 5, 2020. Debbie and her husband were evacuated from their home in Dalmeny. Frank and his wife were evacuated from their home in Narooma. The following Monday they came back into work at IRT Dalmeny and helped repatriate the evacuated residents.

Debbie McDougall: “I had to sleep one night on Bill Smyth Oval in Narooma. I slept on a stretcher bed with a doona and woke up with soot all over my face. I don’t do camping, and my husband laughed because he was next to me and he said ‘this is our first experience of camping after 38 years’. I said ‘I think it will be our last’. I came to work on Monday morning and cleaned the hostel and got it all ready for the residents. When they came in, we welcomed them back in the door and then we gave them all toast and cups of tea and put them in their pyjamas and put them back in their warm beds. They thought it was amazing. A lot of them cried. They said, ‘it’s good to be home’. That was the best part for us. They all just wanted to be back here.”

Frank Illes: “I woke up on Friday morning and the smoke was all around us at home. By 10am it was just pitch black. And behind us you could see this red glow in the sky. We couldn’t get into the evacuation centre in Narooma because it was too full. We spent two nights in the car next to the medical centre in the carpark. When the wind hit, the car was actually shaking. We put the windows down a little bit so we could sleep and in the morning the entire car was full of ash. You couldn’t recognise the car. It’s a white car and it was all black.”

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