THE vision of a child who watched helplessly as fire destroyed Dwellingup in 1961 was recognised when Coolup’s Raalin Wheeler was voted WA Volunteer of the Year at a ceremony in Perth last night.
The personal impact of the tragedy later inspired him to build his own airfield at Coolup and today Wheeler’s Field is acknowledged as one of WA’s most crucial Forward Fire Bases.
Wheeler’s Field, built and maintained at his own expense, is a reflection of Mr Wheeler’s vision and personal commitment and has helped save countless lives, homes, property and livestock over more than 20 years.
Mr Wheeler was nominated for his ongoing commitment in keeping communities in the Peel region safe through the construction, maintenance and management of the airfield.
He co-ordinates training at the airstrip and activates the field during fire emergencies and road trauma and has helped entire communities survive the impact of bushfires and save the lives of fire fighters, volunteers and residents trapped on the ground.
The airfield, built in 1997, is considered one of the best emergency fuelling and water locations and played a critical part in supporting firefighting efforts during the devastating Yarloop bush fires last year, catering for 30 movements a day with a seven and a half minute turnaround.
Over 10 days, 200 litres of water was lifted every minute during daylight hours.
Both Mr Wheeler and the airfield are seen as an asset to Shire of Murray residents, the greater Peel region and the South-West.
Last year, Murray Shire council kicked off funding towards improvements at the airfield, following an appeal for help to the five Peel councils from Mr Wheeler and former Murray shire president Noel Nancarrow.
Improvements included resurfacing dirt runways, enlarging the dam and installation of transportable buildings for storage and shelter for fire fighters who often work in intense heat.
The awards are determined by public vote.