Millie?s chuck wagon facing redundancy
By HUGH KEARNEY
AROUND town it's known affectionately as "Andy's and Millie's Chuck Wagon".
For more than 10 years, the wagon has done sterling duty in times of fire and tempest, feeding hungry rural firefighters and SES personnel in the field.
In the capable hands of mother-and-son team Millie Higgins and Andrew Preston and a band of volunteers, the purpose-built trailer has been to every corner of the Tweed Shire backing up the emergency services personnel.
But will it past muster under new food-handling regulations for NSW rural firefighters soon to come into force?
The NSW Rural Fire Service is finalising regulations to ensure the food its volunteers are served when they are out on the job is hygienically prepared.
RFS Far North Coast team manager Dave Cook said yesterday the service would soon be implementing guidelines for safe handling of food to ensure the health and safety of rural firefighters.
"The RFS is very conscious of the need to supply its personnel with hygienically prepared food, no matter where they may be fighting fires," Mr Cook said.
"The health and safety of all our crews is a serious matter and that is why we follow the guidelines which require all food to be commercially prepared."
Mr Cook said under current arrangements, if personnel on duty needed to be fed during a short, localised fire, they would buy meals from commercial take-away.
"But in the event of a bigger fire, like the Section 44 fire at Round Mountain last year, where we had to feed a lot of people over an extended time, we have to bring in professional caterers to handle the demand," Mr Cook said.
"We could be responsible for feeding 200 or even 300 people and the consequences of giving them unhygienic food and making them all sick are unthinkable."
Mr Cook said the Tweed RFS had been following the guidelines for some time and the introduction of the regulations would have no further impact.
So where does that leave the chuck wagon?
Millie and Andrew house the wagon at their Murwillumbah home and tow it behind the family 4WD to where it is needed.
Millie, who has been involved with civil defence organisations for more than 35 years, said the wagon has filled a vital community need.
"It has done a wonderful job over the years, but times change and if the new regulations say it isn't suitable, I have no problem with that.
"The biggest problem we have these days is getting enough volunteers to help out when we need them," Millie said.
But it seems there is life in the faithful wagon yet.
According to Mr Cook, the unit can still provide service to tired and hungry rural firefighters as long as people working on the wagon have the proper training.
Mr Cook said an RFS operations officer would be responsible for arranging training and certifying personnel in hygienic food handling.