by John Robertson
Paul’s training sessions get ever more realistic. On Wednesday, 23rd April, he posed a Panorama Point scenario in which the fire had been deliberately lit on the steep slope just off the road below the gate where a rough track heads off northwards. He asked all of us for suggestions on how best the fire might be tackled with our Brigade resources alone. The chosen strategy was an amalgam of the suggestions. It had 41 and 51 on the rough track and the road respectively attacking the fire uphill from the black with 52 at the turning circle on the NPWS track ready to attack the fire at the head if it got to them. If the fire became fierce 52 would retreat and we would call for air attack. All the trucks with full crews then set out from the Station to put the plan into action. Given fairly light winds and a low fuel load (thanks to the many fires previously) 41 and 51 notionally extinguished the fire before it got to 52’s location. With good reconnaissance Paul found a narrow track made by dirt bikes which ran all the way from the road to the turning circle. This will be a valuable earth break when (not if) we next have to deal with a real fire there. All trucks re-watered at Holt Road and then back to the Station for a debrief.
Other recent training sessions have covered the ‘Dead Man Zone’ and flashover drill. Paul drew attention to new research findings showing that the chances of crew survival in a vehicle trapped in a bad bush fire are very poor. The standard drill does improve those chances but they remain poor. The plastic items in the truck give off toxic fumes which kill the occupants. The deaths aboard trucks in South Australia in 2005 and in Western Australia last year underline the low chances of survival. In a flashover, fire trucks have the big advantage that they carry water. Used to create a water curtain over the entire vehicle this can greatly improve a crew’s chance of staying alive in a flashover. It is not a new idea; good old TM13 had just such water curtains. We are in the process of building-in fixed water spray curtains to our vehicles. At our flashover exercise, 52 showed that a most effective water curtain can be created using only the gear on the truck. Set up takes about one minute. A water curtain must be started only at the last moment to ensure that the available water holds out until the fire front has passed.