Smoke inhalation from bushfires makes COVID-19 riskier?

Shellharbour firefighter’s smoke inhalation from bushfires makes COVID-19 riskier

As the worst bushfire season in the state’s history ended on Tuesday, Fire and Rescue Shellharbour station officer Darin Sullivan has reflected on the “whirlwind” of December and January.

His experience fighting the bushfires on the South Coast left him feeling the effects of smoke inhalation for months after and has made him more at risk to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Sullivan, like many people who were affected by several months of heavy smoke, had poor lungs and a persistent cough, which puts him in a higher risk category if he is infected with the virus.

“The smoke affected entire communities,” he said. “There is a debate to be had that the bushfire season has reduced people’s resilience if they get the virus.”


 The Fire and Rescue crew saved an elderly’s man house in Wandanian. Shellharbour Fire and Rescue station officer Darin Sullivan is still feeling the effects of smoke inhalation after fighting bushfires last summer. Picture: Darin Sullivan. 

Mr Sullivan said looking back on the summer, he said it felt “like a disaster”.

“As Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday are remembered, we might call this season, Black Summer.

“As an organisation we have reflected on the service we provided, provided feedback and debriefed.”

Mr Sullivan will always recall when his HAZMAT crew were tasked to Bateman’s Bay on New Year’s Eve, when the area was razed by fire, to help refuel air cylinders and repair firefighter’s breathing apparatus.

“We first had to get through the Currowan fire near Nowra,” he said. “The highway was on fire so we were escorted by another fire crew. I had lost contact with my wife and friends who were in Conjola.

“We delivered the air cylinders and on our way back we went into Conjola and ended up evacuating my wife by bringing her back in the truck to Shellharbour.”

Only a couple days later on January 4, the crew saved an elderly’s man house in Wandanian. Under extreme heat and wind, the crew extinguished the flames from under the house.

Read more: Illawarra and Shoalhaven RFS reflect on worst bushfire season in state’s history as it ends

Read more: Why this Wollongong firefighter will speak at Saturday’s climate change rally

About Darin Sullivan (1980 Articles)
Former President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (2009-2018) and a professional firefighter with more than 30 years experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a former Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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