An inferno-like shed ravaged by fires, a neighbouring house battling from the burns of unprecedented flames and blazing embers dancing through the thick, black smoke in the air. This is what it looked like for residents of Port Macquarie when out of control bushfires tore through their town just a few months ago.
“It’s dark terror when you find out it’s on your doorstep. It’s still tense it feels like the pin is going to drop... You’re kind of waiting for it to just hit – which is really awful,” Sally, NRMA Insurance agency staff member explained.
“It’s like a suspense movie that has not stopped for weeks, and for some of the residents in Port Macquarie, they’ve had one fire that’s been smoking since July. So, it’s an instant reminder as soon as you wake up, you open the door, you smell it and you’re still on alert.”
In NSW alone, 1,588 homes have been confirmed destroyed. And although hundreds of Port Macquarie community members have lost their properties, farms, precious belongings and livelihoods they haven’t lost their will to help each other. Sally said the community spirit is still strong.
Having worked at NRMA Insurance for more than 13 years, Sally’s helped her fair share of clients but believes they’re more than that – they’re family.
“Our customers are our family,” she said. “You’re seeing anyone from someone who is just getting their learner licence right up to someone who has just sold their home. So, it’s great to know you’re a part of their journey. We treat them like family, so you just want to know that you’re doing the best and that they know they can come in and talk to us whenever they want.”
When asked about the country’s awareness surrounding the severity of the recent bushfires she said: “You can’t handle that level of tension without some sort of repercussion.”
In October of last year, when the bushfires blazed through Port Macquarie and across the North Coast of NSW, it shook the community to the core.
“We’ve got a lot of customers who are really struggling emotionally. You can feel that you can’t do enough to try and ease their tension…I don’t like feeling that. I want the good times back,” she said, as her voice trembled with emotion.
Sally and her NRMA Insurance family worked tirelessly on the frontline to help locals who’ve lost so much. She said their teamwork and commitment to help locals to get back on their feet was a testament to ‘help is who we are’.
“I had one customer in his 50s, full of life, who’s been farming his whole life. He’s seen any fire that’s ever come at him. It took him two weeks to get the courage to come in and visit us…he was telling us his story and it was like Armageddon,” she said.
“The lovely Tiana (NRMA Insurance Agency Staff Member) got the ball rolling and under 10 minutes the assessor had called him and I nearly blushed. I just thought ‘how amazing is this?’ We were able to knock it on the head for him. We were able to answer his questions and get some peace of mind.”
‘Proud’ is how Sally described her efforts and those of her team.
“When our customer came in and we were able to help him within 10 minutes, that was proof to me that help is who we are. That’s us delivering on our promise.”