CFA District 17 strategise to rotate resources

THE Victorian Country Fire Authority and Forest Fire Management Victoria are developing a short term strategy to effectively allocate assets for the bushfires. 

This comes after District 17 firefighters from the Wimmera sent out strike forces to Walwa and Wodonga last week. 

Operations Manager Craig Brittain said emergency services have mapped out a strategy to assist with asset management to rotate personnel and resources. 

“We’re doing some strategic work today (yesterday) looking ahead about four or five weeks, we’ve had some discussions today to determine how do we strategically provide people on a continual rotating basis,” Mr Brittain said. 

He said this strategy will ensure resources are still made available for the Wimmera, rotating personnel, to leave enough assets back home. 

“We need to get it right so we can provide them with the most support that we can without leaving us short here (Wimmera),” he said. 

“If something was to happen here how many people would we have to run into the control centre at a basic level, and we keep those people in supply and that tells us how many we can afford to send away for support.”

He said they have not had a request to send more personnel at this stage, however they’re on standby and the call out could come out anytime. 

“It might be by the end of this week we might get asked for another strike team but we don’t know yet, we just have to wait until that request comes through.” 

“Basically they go away for a set period of time, have fatigue rest and someone else will go away.” 

“We had firefighters away and incident management people have been replaced. We haven’t been asked for any more firefighters to be sent away at this stage.” 

Twenty firefighters and incident management personnel were sent out to assist with the fires last week. 

Mr Brittain said the bushfire season will likely continue for another eight weeks under hot and dry conditions. 

“It’s not over yet, we’ve still got about eight weeks of summer to go so definitely we shouldn’t rest on our laurels and think once we get these out that will be it, far from it. The risk is there and the community needs to be aware of that. Fire can and will start because it’s so dry we need to be really cautious.” 

He said the CFA and FFMV are on high alert of the Grampians Region. 

“The landscape is still dry, it only takes a couple days of warm weather, a little bit of wind and that fuel soon dries out. The forests are really dry, the Grampians are a concern, you get any ignition source in there, it is a very big risk for us. Both for CFA and FFMV,” he said. 

Mr Brittain said while the risk is far from over, he wants to remind people to stay safe and not take risks in the event of a fire. 

“We’ve still got trees falling we just had a FFMV fire fighter get killed on Saturday unfortunately a very sad situation where a tree fell and struck him. So it’s a very dangerous situation,” he said. 

“You don’t put yourself at risk, don’t put yourself in front of a huge fire coming at you, don’t stand under trees and it’s about if we have to withdraw people. You can’t guarantee there’s going to be a firetruck there to protect you.

“People need to protect themselves and that is leave and leave early, and don’t put yourself at risk. Firefighters can’t put themselves at risk because you think you’re going to stay.” 

Among District 17 Officers, Warracknabeal Fire Brigade Captain Cameron Whelan was sent out to the eastern Victorian Fires along with Firefighter Nathan Holland.

Mr Whelan also attended fires in Bateman’s Bay with Officer Robert Sharp before Christmas last year. 

He said seeing the direct impact of these fires at face value is confronting. 

“As far as scale, this is unprecedented right across  Australia, it’s one thing to see it on a map and go ‘oh yeah 300,000 hectares for a fire’, but actually getting into the ranges and looking as far as the eye can see at timber that has burnt. You’ve got to have boots on the ground to appreciate the scale of it,” he said. 

“When you come across farming land and it’s all scorched and you’ve got cattle standing in the middle just looking at you that’s the hard part to deal with for me personally, and you look at the trucks and there’s no feed, there’s some starting to move in now though.” 

Mr Whelan is now resting from volunteering after last week, however he said they could be called out again at any moment. 

“They’ll call again if they need. The fire brigade at home never stops, we’re always on call. But we’ll try and support as much as we can into the future.” 

Mr Whelan said the CFA are doing all they can to provide assistance, but there is only so much they can achieve in such extreme conditions. 

“It was so vast, the bushland, because there’s so much timber, we’re sitting waiting, doing asset protection and hazardous tree identification,” he said. 

“It’s really being a presence in some of these areas. In Walwa, you’re just there for a bit of reassurance.” 

“Some of them haven’t seen fire trucks yet, so just to have strike team come in is a huge relief to the community, just anything we can do to help.”

He said just being someone to talk to in these stressful times is just as important as fighting the fires. 

“Even if it’s just sitting and having a cup of coffee, just being empathetic and listening is one of our things. We’re not just there to fight fires, we’re there to support,” he said.