Bushfires and Disability - Muscular Dystrophy Queensland

Bushfires and Disability

Bushfire Preparedness

Written by Peter Slade
(Community member from Beerwah)

We live in Beerwah and were caught up in the bush fires of September and October. A couple of times we found it necessary to prepare to leave our property. This was a slow process for us, largely because I’m disabled. My powered wheelchair had to be loaded into our van, as did various other items of equipment that are useful for disabled people, for example bed leg extenders, wheely walker and so on. Then, it was necessary to load an emergency survival kit, as abled people would do.

Before I go any further, I recommend you click on the link below to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services website for advice on what is needed in an emergency kit.


Whether you include every item they suggest is really a matter of discretion and your personal circumstances. We, for example, did not include cutlery and plates as we had arranged to stay with our daughter and her family in Brisbane, should the need arise. If you live in more rural, regional, or remote locations, then you’d need to consider taking more and different items. I noticed that a number of people who’d evacuated from the Tara fires were sleeping in their cars. This may not be an option for people with disabilities. Lots of people had pets with them as well, which had me thinking about those with seeing eye and assistance dogs.

One item that is not mentioned in the suggested QFES kit is a power pack. I find power packs very useful. As well as starting a vehicle with a flat battery, they have charging ports for electronic devices. I guess the message is not to rely completely on your car’s battery.

Another unexpected equipment item for us included an extension lead to keep my power chair charged when not in use. We left the chair in the van overnight on charge via the lead, because we expected worsening fire weather the next day. You may also end up in a situation where you can’t unload your wheelchair, but need to keep it charged. I’m fortunate in that I can, with difficulty, get into my chair when it is loaded in our van. This may not be the case in future.

Make sure your vehicle has a full tank of fuel. If you have an electric vehicle you may have to consider where recharge points are nearby, assuming you’ve evacuated your property.

It took us a lot longer than our neighbours to load our van. This has nothing to do with a lack of thought, speed or common sense. It is simply because one of us has a disability. We now know that it is a good idea to load at the Watch and Act phase of the bushfire warning system. DO NOT DEFER ACTION UNTIL THE PREPARE TO LEAVE PHASE.

I’m not without experience in fires. I once worked in the forestry industry and have good bushfire fighting experience and a knowledge of fire behaviour. However, the ravages of time and disability have slowed me down. The Beerwah fires were a wakeup call. Yes, we do have an emergency kit sitting in our garage ready for the next time.

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