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Recovery is a step by step process

Blue Mountains

A story from Lithgow in NSW, reflecting life in September 2020

Leam Dzwinek is a plumber who lives in Dargan in the Blue Mountains in NSW. Before the Black Summer bushfires, he was working full-time in his own business and raising two young children. 

“We had a good rural life, raising chickens, pigs and working around the house. It’s a great place to raise children and there was plenty of room and space for the kids to play on the land,” explained Leam.

That all changed last year.

“The fire went over the house and along the side. I stayed outside and my friend was in the house letting me know about the windows exploding, so I could run around with the hose. It was all over in 30 minutes,” he said.

“I just put myself under the hose and lay in a puddle of water and we just felt so lucky. And then went to check on anyone else who had stayed.”

The day after the fire, the RFS came back. One of them was crying when they saw Leam and his friend. The RFS volunteer said “we expected to come back and find you dead.”

Ruth Myers works for the Step by Step Recovery Service. The service is one of seven recovery support services working in NSW with a specific focus on supporting people who have been impacted by the Black Summer bushfires.

A team of six (known as steppers) provide outreach support to residents living in the Mid-western, Lithgow, Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury local government areas. The steppers provide a personalised case management support service.

“Leam was referred to Step by Step by a friend of his who had concerns for his wellbeing,” explained Ruth.

“When I first met Leam he said he was “OK” but I was aware that he may be feeling overwhelmed with the ‘what to do’s’,” said Ruth.

“What to do first, how to start, and the financial processes. I met with him and had a good yarn, and over time I could just check in on him; meeting him at a coffee shop, or in the office, or at his home.”

Leam says Ruth told him about some grants that were available and helped him to apply for them. She has stayed in contact and supported him by letting him know about services and financial support.

Leam received a small business grant from the NSW and Australian governments and he has also received help from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army as well as the Steppers program.

“Thankfully, I had a great number of friends who helped out. The financial support helped get some things started,” said Leam.

“I’m really grateful for Leam’s sense of community and how he is moving forward. In a word, he lives resilience,” said Ruth.