The suit that could save your life
IF YOU see a farmer in the mid-north region of South Australia, chances are they have a fluorescent coloured fire protection suit behind the seat of their ute.
After the fatal November 2015 Pinery fires, which killed two people, burnt about 90,000 hectares of land and destroyed 100 homes, the farming community rallied at a local Agricultural Bureau meeting to discuss the disaster.
At the meeting Clinton Tiller, whose uncle Allan Tiller was killed in the fire, made the point there was not protection clothing available for farmers to buy off the shelf.
"So I put my hand up and said I would follow it up,” he said.
That moment sparked a year's worth of work, and a holistic community effort to get hundreds of suits designed, manufactured and donated to about 280 farmers in their region.
Now, these special suits are available for residents Australia-wide to purchase online.
While small enough to fit under or behind the seat of the ute, tractor or harvester, Clinton believes they could save a life.
Clinton's uncle Allan was helping his son protect the neighbouring farm house the day he died.
While his family was able to flee, Allan's car stalled and he perished in the blaze.
Although more than a year on from that fire, Clinton said the community was still recovering.
He is a fifth generation farmer on a broad-acre grain property.
"We are slowing recovering, but it takes a long time,” he said.
"When you are driving around you still see dead trees everywhere, but we have had a good season since then, but the scars are still there.”
The only silver lining from the fire was the creation of the suits.
"It's good news to come out of such a drastic natural disaster,” he said.
"It had a lot of momentum behind it, people were happy to receive their suits at the time.”
While Clinton would much prefer for farmers to never have to fight a fire, he knew that was unrealistic.
"If your neighbour has a fire, you do what you naturally do and you go and put the fire out,” he said.
"It's just what you do, you don't ask any questions.
"We are in a lentil growing area, which is a high-risk crop for fires. It's been a good harvest this year. We only went to one paddock fire, but years before you could go to five or six.
"It's not that we want to fight fires, it's just that we want to be protected if we have to.”
All up the community and businesses raised $50,000 to get the suits made.
Clinton describes the process as a "lot of logistical work”.
"The local agronomist that we use (Michael Brougham) crunched the numbers and got all the names and sizes for the suits,” he said.
"Then Mark Heaslip approached hay processors in our area and we got about $30,000 together.”
As momentum for the project built, other business made generous $10,000 donations, including a winery from the Barossa Valley, and the high $50,000 total was reached.
Former CFA Chief for South Australia and Victoria Euan Ferguson agreed the suits could save lives.
"In the last 15 years at least four farmers have died in South Australia when fighting fires on or near their property,” he said.
"In every case, there is a strong argument that if they had been wearing protective clothing, they may have had a better chance.”
Clinton said their main aim for the suits was for them to be cheap and practical.
"We had input from the farmers here, and a few other industry people,” he said.
"We worked out what we needed. They are a two piece, which makes them easier to put on.
"You can put them on over your boots and the pants you already have on.”
The bright fluorescent colour means the suits are distinguishable from all other government bodies.
"We don't want to look like we are running the show. We just want to be protected ... and to stand out and be seen amongst the smoke,” he said.
Clinton keeps his suit behind the seat of his ute so it's always with him.
"We wanted them as small as possible,” he said.
"It's funny when I see someone's ute parked somewhere I can see their bags in there, because they are that fluorescent yellow.”
The Farmers wildland fire-fighting ensembles include jacket and trousers and a garment pouch for storage.
Sizes include Regular Fit 3XS-6XL and Short Fit Med-6XL
Prices start at $370