State of Emergency
The idea of what community means came home to me recently, when on a recent stormy Sunday evening I noticed my neighbour wandering about the rain-whipped street with her brother, who is also my landlord, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and helmet.
I had dinner cooking and I was enjoying a bottle of red, so I was definitely ‘in for the night’ as they say, until I heard knocking on the window. My neighbour’s phone had gone flat and she wanted to know if she could use my power. Looking past her, towards her house, I could see why she didn’t just use her own power.
One of two fir trees in her front garden had fallen over, ripping her power supply and phone cables out and taking the plank of wood they were attached to under the roof with them. Both cables fed from the other side of the road and the live power cable was whipping like a skipping rope, one end still attached up at the pole top, the other trapped under the fallen tree.
It turned out my landlord is an SES volunteer and before I knew it, he slapped an orange safety helmet on me and dashed back to “base” to get some road safety cones. My job was to stop motorists driving into the power cable. The power company was notified, but we were told there was a queue. In the meantime, as the sky darkened and the wind whipped up, I made cups of coffee – until, with a clap and a blue flash in the distance over the local substation, the power went out. At least the cable wasn’t live any more.
But not for long – the power came back on, the danger from the cable returned. A traffic control contractor stopped and soon we had a ‘divert’ sign flashing and he stayed there with his ute for about three hours until another emergency called him away.
During the time we waited for the power company we talked about whether or not it was our responsibility to be standing there, in the wet and wind, stopping people from getting electrocuted. We decided it wasn’t, but if we didn’t do it who would? It turns out there’s no instruction manual for what to do in a crisis. It soon became a mind game – how long were we prepared to stand in a deserted, wind swept road to ensure safety.
The answer is five hours. After that it was approaching midnight, we were exhausted and we could see from the emergency vehicles rushing past and ignoring us that ours was quite a small thing in the scheme of that night’s disasters. Anyway, there were now yards of SES safety tape around the place, as well as safety cones, and the cable was sandbagged to stop it moving. We called it a night and I ate the cold remains of my dinner.
The next morning nothing had changed. Then the power company came around midday and fixed the cable back to the house in about half an hour.
My lasting impression of that night will be that our little street community had to take responsibility for its own well-being. When threatened we used our own resources, rather than wait to be told what to do. It reminded me of our own LGBTI community, which is also currently under threat, although facing dangers – bigotry and ignorance – of a different kind. By combining our efforts, these too can be overcome.