When Jayde pictured spending Christmas with her family she didn’t expect it to be in the midst of severe bushfires. During a visit to her family’s Tumbarumba property north of the Victorian border for Xmas, things took an unbelievable turn. What was meant to be time spent with loved ones turned into the fight of their lives
As the sky turned black from thick smoke, Jayde’s family calculated their plan of attack. Together they built containment lines throughout the property, moved cattle to safer areas, filled gutters with soaking wet towels and rags, removed petrol from sheds and had an evacuation plan in place in case the unthinkable happened.
“We took about 15 minutes to discuss what needed to be done, our exit strategy and evacuation meeting point. Being that this was a rural property we weren’t always together. If we had a time and place to meet and one of us didn’t make it, it basically meant this person could have been in danger,” Jayde said.
“My family’s plan was to stay only in the event we were well prepared and there was an element of safety. The reason my husband and I, my mother and brothers’ left in the end was because the smoke became so bad, we needed to get the kids away from it.”
Once they’d evacuated their family home and left their loved ones to fight the fires, the emotions of leaving were overwhelming.
“I cried all the way to safety. I was worried about my dad who stayed behind to fight and also my friends and extended family. I just didn’t want anyone to be injured or lose their life,” the NRMA Insurance Motor Claims Specialist explained.
She recalls how throughout all of this her dad had been fighting those fires for 13 days straight. “Not being able to communicate throughout all of this and relying on the news each morning to know everyone was safe was the hardest thing for me.”
Without electricity, phone service and internet, it was hard for townspeople to communicate with the outside world. This added to the stress of the unprecedented bushfires and the unfortunate events that had burdened the community.
“People were frightened. This fire was threatening not just properties on the outskirts of town but the main street of the town itself. No one in this community had never been faced with a fire so big, so close to the community, in conditions so bad on the back end of a drought,” she explained.
At a town meeting Jayde spoke up about working for NRMA Insurance, supplied her personal mobile number and offered her expertise to those unsure of what their policies covered.
She gave advice like what items to pack that weren’t generally covered and to take photos of valuables to help when lodging a claim. She also notified customers who needed
emergency accommodation available to them, which some people weren’t even aware of. Jayde even went to the extent of visiting local camping grounds to check for NRMA Insurance customers so that she could arrange emergency accommodation for them.
Jayde describes how when people asked her for support, she didn’t have the heart to say no nor turn them away. Her moral obligation to aid community members around town overshadowed all that was happening around her.
“After speaking at the community meetings and passing the messages to other community meetings around the area people were looking to me for help.”
“It started with one or two calls and turned into about 20 to 30 phone calls a day as my number spread. This was when I knew I needed to be based somewhere because I just couldn’t convince people to call. They didn’t trust that what they needed would be heard from someone over the phone.”
The Wollongong based Motor Claims Specialist was given an office at the Wagga Wagga site where staff provided her customers with hot beverages and biscuits to comfort them as they lived through their harsh realities. “I couldn’t thank the Wagga Wagga agency enough. They could not have been more accommodating,” she said.
In such a desperate time of need Jayde was gallant. Giving up her annual leave and time with family to look after her local community, she proved she was more than helpful – she was a kind, selfless and caring soul. Jayde said she’ll never forget the stories of the customers who walked through her office doors. “I saw people struggle with being helpless,” she said. “It was one of the hardest and saddest things I’ve had to do in my working career but also the best and most rewarding thing I have ever done.”