The Country Fire Authority (CFA) was established in the 1850s, with the first brigades formed in Geelong, Castlemaine and Sandhurst (now Bendigo). Today it consists of over 59,000 volunteers, and others, in 20 districts and eight regions across Victoria. Pretty much every community in Victoria has a CFA fire brigade that provides a host of fire, rescue and other services to their community. For a city dweller, the CFA is often thought of (if thought about at all) as just an arm of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), it’s not; however, it is an essential part of rural communities and also supports the MFB. Most importantly, the people that live in those rural communities are the local fire brigade.
Now as we move into the fire season the CFA, like any first response organisation, needs to be able to work effectively, efficiently and safely, both in teams and in groups of teams. To that end, the Strzelecki Group of Fire Brigades was recently formed, inter alia, in order to ensure those aims and, last Sunday, they were in Mirboo North practising those team skills essential for fire-fighting. The Strzelecki Group of Fire Brigades consists of the following 13 brigades from the surrounding area (roughly shown on the map):
- Mirboo North
- Leongatha South
- Berry’s Creek
The fire vehicles are a vital part of any brigade and there’s naturally commonality in the type and configuration of each fire vehicle, though variations do occur depending on the age of the vehicle and purpose. I understand that there’s been a major initiative to upgrade and improve the vehicles across the CFA fleet, which is not an insignificant task.
On this day, the teams were conducting a range of exercises, reflecting the types of incidents typically encountered during the bushfire season. These included spot fires, elevated fires, grass fires, fuel fires, as well as the utilisation of supplementary fire-fighting aids in such events. The spot/localised, as well as fuel fires, were being practised at one end of the training grounds, while other activities were taking place elsewhere.
One of the most common fires experienced are grass fires, especially those that move along fence lines, road verges and the like. This activity often requires the fire tender to be moving along, while the fire-fighters hose the fire to extinguish and contain its spread, while trying to minimise water use. Accuracy, consistency and teamwork is what’s required for this to be effective. So to test this accuracy, consistency and teamwork, the crews were required to move a beach ball along the roadside, a pre-set distance, using their hoses to control its movement. When the teams achieved this smoothly and in a good time, they were naturally quite elated.
Another activity going on was similarly practicing accuracy as well as water conservation, a rather important thing when it can be very difficult to get water to some areas, or get it there quickly. In this case, the task was to fill a bucket that had been hoisted into a tree in the most efficient manner and using the least amount of water from the tanker.
And further afield, support systems were being put to use, in this case a portable 10,000lt water bladder (or more like a portable spa), with the teams learning its features and functions. These bladders serve as supplementary water sources, a bit like the water points found throughout the bush, especially in the High Country, but able to be moved about to where they are required. They can serve as filling points for fire tenders, as well as helicopter water bombers.
And last but not least, every incident response group needs a command and control structure, assessing the current and developing situation, and communicating and directing teams to areas of critical need. Nowadays there are a host of technologies that make this far more efficient and effective than ever before, and today there was a Forward Operations Vehicle in attendance from the Churchill Brigade, demonstrating the scope of this modern technology.
This is really only a brief overview of the CFA and it’s training operations, as they occurred on this day, and it was only by happenstance that I came across their training day (very late unfortunately) and rushed home to get my camera gear. As the fire season approaches once again, it behoves everyone living in bushfire prone areas to be situationally aware of their surrounds, the potential dangers and, most importantly, have an exit plan.
For those in bushfire prone areas, the first place to visit is the CFA website to find out what you should understand and should be doing and, as there are many ‘tree changers’ moving to rural areas, they should become aware of what they need to know and understand about their specific locality. Visiting the local CFA brigade will provide a wealth of locally relevant advice.
Update 1. There’s been a lot in the news recently about the State Government’s (or Premier Daniel Andrews’) push to change the CFA organisation and place it under the United Firefighters Union control. With the resignation of Ministers, the sacking of the CFA board and general mayhem throughout, this is one of the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever witnessed. If all the CFA volunteers resigned (which I know and Daniel Andrews knows, they won’t do), how would the State cope?
Update 2. I think this is really becoming very telling:
THE Country Fire Authority has no country representation on its board after another tumultuous week of dealings with the Victorian Government.