'Mother duck' to the firies

As firefighters took time out from the Cobbler Road Fire at the Bookham staging area, a Monteagle woman was singled out for her efforts to keep them on their feet.

Her efforts were so noticeable she was featured in the Daily Telegraph and the Canberra Times, with the NSW Premier calling her "mother duck”.

Armed with cool drinks, slices of watermelon and a hug, Gail Butt was feeding around 350 people a day with three teams of four on 12-hour shifts throughout the crisis.

It's an operation of exacting military precision, an art she's honed over 49 years volunteering with the Rural Fire Service.

Gail, who was on the 2011 Hidden Treasures Roll, relishes order and says the logistics side fell into place easily.

"I guess it's a gift," she said. "I don't have a problem with it."

Gail's undertaking had humble beginnings with an offering of just sandwiches and scones in a basket with recipes on standby to whip up at a moment's notice.

Then food safety requirements were brought in, which she said only upgraded her operation, and she completed courses to comply.

It was after the fire at the Young abattoir that her operation really moved up a notch with the construction of a purpose-built trailer she could take wherever she was needed.

Sometimes cooking until 3.30 in the morning at the Bookham fire, Gail said it was a "hell of a job" but she got immense satisfaction from it.

"When they come in, they're hot, they're dirty but you rush out and give them a hug - that's my job," she said. 

"The atmosphere is awesome - they just love you."

From time to time, Gail came face-to-face with the harsh realities of fire fighting as men and women returned distraught and in need of comfort she was more than willing to give if required.

"Barry O'Farrell said to me 'you sound like the old mother duck' and I said, 'that's exactly what I am’ because I try to comfort and support 100 per cent," Gail said.

But although she said she felt for them and the farmers who had lost stock, she kept her eye on the job.

"You have to," she said.

Gail said the comradeship in the Bookham community was something she'd never seen before.

So when the RFS told her they were going to stop locals from bringing in home-prepared meals due to hygiene concerns, she told them what for.

"I'm running this ship and I'll decide," she said to them.

Although she saw the RFS' point, she said to stop the locals from helping out would insult them and break their community spirit.

"If you saw the amount of food brought in by little kids, it blew you away," she said.

"It was their way of saying thank you.

"The world would be a better place if we could all help each other out," she said.

While NSW RFS South West Slopes Zone manager Andrew Dillon said all members of the catering team did a fantastic job, Gail stood out as an excellent leader who did the zone proud.

"She sources fresh food in the middle of the night and gets to whereever she's needed," he said.

"Gail just does that extra bit - she really does an awesome job," Mr Dillon said.

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