In a five-part campaign titled 'The Burning Issue', the Central Western Daily is exploring the troubling volume of car thefts and fires in our city, and seeking answers and solutions from those in power. This is the fourth story in the series, examining the impact on our emergency services personnel ...
It's the one word repeated by firefighter after firefighter about Orange's wave of car blazes, which have been burning across the city in their dozens and dozens over the past six months.
NSW Fire and Rescue retained firefighter Chris Dickerson has been dragged out of bed well over 30 times in that period, to come into the station to cover for his colleagues attending jobs.
He sits on-call, in case another job comes in over their alert system, while most of the time firefighters battle car blazes.
"It scares you," he said of getting calls in the middle of the night calling him into the station.
"Straight away you're awake, you don't know until you get here what it is, if it's a car fire, a house, a shed.
"When you walk in there's a screen which tells you what you're doing ... you get over it at 2.30am when it's a car fire."
His colleague Dave Beattie, who's a leading firefighter at the Orange Fire and Rescue station in charge of a shift, uses the word "frustrated" a lot when talking about care fires.
He's frustrated with the problem on many levels, for the danger it poses to the public, for tying up resources, for calling in colleagues when they might not or should not be needed, for the danger to firefighters themselves.
MAP: Some of the car fires in Orange in 2019 ...
He said the car fires themselves are dangerous not because of the cars themselves, but what they have in them - many of the cars are stolen with tools in the back or things in the boot, and things like gas tanks, rechargeable batteries and lithium batteries in drills and tools can be very dangerous for emergency services.
"Something silly like that is going to hurt somebody. All of these things just aren't necessary and that's when it becomes dangerous for everybody," he said.
"You've got the potential of delaying firefighting resources to another incident ... which could be life saving."
Mr Beattie said some jobs were hair-raising, with one job responding to a call-out which stated someone was in a burning car. In that instance every second travelling to the car felt like an hour.
"You get there and put it out and look through the car looking for human remains ... there weren't any but that's stressful," he said.
The impact on the public was also something which concerned firefighters, and despite close calls it was astonishing someone hadn't been hurt or property hadn't been seriously damaged - with firefighters counting 23 explosions from batteries in the back of one car a few months ago.
"There's been plenty of times like the most recent one where they drove the car into someone's yard and it was within a metre or two of the back of the house and that's very close," he said.
"Lots of people are losing their cars and it's part of their livelihoods. We were talking to a bloke a few weeks ago who'd brought a new ute for his business and he wasn't sure if he was insured or not ... he'd only got the ute the day before and his business is under a lot more strain. It takes away from people.
"I don't know who we're dealing with if it's kids or uneducated people but they're just not thinking about it. It's all about them and that's a concern."
Firefighters out of town are sharing the frustration.
Rural Fire Service Clifton Grove/Ophir Brigade captain John Eyles said his 40-member brigade is "well trained and practised" at putting out car fires - having faced a dozen or so in their area north-east of Orange in the past six months.
"We're quite adept at it," he said.
Cars, when they burn, they burn pretty fast. By the time we get there, there's not much left to save, it's more about making sure the fire doesn't spread too far beyond the car.Rural Fire Service Clifton Grove/Ophir Brigade captain John Eyles
"Car fires are quite a danger, with melting magnesium, they're full of petrol and agents which make the car burn faster.
"We focus on getting there as fast as we can. Cars, when they burn, they burn pretty fast. By the time we get there, there's not much left to save, it's more about making sure the fire doesn't spread too far beyond the car."
He said the risk of car fires sparking "catastrophic" bushfires which could engulf homes was "a real worry", as well as general burns like one in Kinross State Forest this month believed to be arson.
"It's very frustrating. Especially when you see some good quality cars which have been taken for a joyride and burned out," he said.
Firefighters aren't the only emergency services on the front line of the burning issue.
NSW Fire and Rescue firefighter Tim Collins said compared to police, "we've got the easy job".
"We just turn up and put the car fire out. The cops are the ones who have to track them down."
Tracking the culprits down is exactly what Police Association of NSW Orange branch chairman Adam Piffarelli wished police had more time and scope to do.
Mr Piffarelli, who is also a general duties officer, has been to five car burnings personally while on night shift - most concentrated around Cootes Park in Glenroi - but said the tally over the past 12 months had ticked over 100.
We're part of the community and feel the community's frustration and anger as well towards what's happening here.Police Association of NSW Orange branch chairman Adam Piffarelli
"It is a staggering figure," he said.
He echoed the phrase used by firefighters to describe what it's like at a car fire.
"It's frustrating, we're going to not really be able to assist with recovering this person's property", Mr Piffarelli said.
"We're pretty much going to try and do damage mitigation. Hopefully the firies get there quick to try and stop the fires so we can preserve evidence.
"It's a three-pronged frustration in we're watching someone's hard-earned property go up in smoke but we're also watching our evidence get washed away by firies who are in turn doing their job.
"The third part of that frustration is we can't help but feel whoever's doing this could be watching, going behind the shadows, having a look. Out hands are tied in what we can and can't do."
He said the misconception of what police could and couldn't do was feeding the community's own frustration, which was often voiced towards police over social media.
"We're part of the community and feel the community's frustration and anger as well towards what's happening here," Mr Piffarelli said.
"We share the community's frustration in what's going on, and social media does provide a platform for people to go voice their opinions, if they're justifiable or founded."
You get there and put it out and look through the car looking for human remains ... there weren't any but that's stressful.NSW Fire and Rescue leading firefighter Dave Beattie
Police having resources diverted from other tasks was yet another frustration police had with the issue - with each car fire taking up 90 minutes for a pair of officers, and that was if they had a "dream run" with paperwork, tow trucks and the crime scene.
Those 90 minutes are time officers could be spending tackling other issues.
"[Car fires] are not the only issue represented in Orange. We're over-represented in domestic violence, that's a massive issue we've got to target as well," he said.
"The hot topic last year was drug use and distribution and that seems to have fallen by the wayside with the car fires."
Mr Piffarelli said police officers weren't immune to the affects of the issue.
"The vast majority are all people who are based in Orange so we're part of the community and feel the community's frustration and anger as well towards what's happening here," he said.
"We're looking at playing the odds, it's only a matter of time before one of us is personally affected by this."
DO YOU WANT MORE ORANGE NEWS?
- Receive our free newsletters delivered to your inbox, as well as breaking news alerts. Sign up below ...