by John Robertson
On 19th July our training was at the Auxiliary Station and was a talk and video on the I-Zone. This is where housing and the bush merge one with the other. The presenter was Paul Womersley who is the I-Zone coordinator for our district. There was a good attendance of both rural and urban firies. Paul showed various local photos of I-Zones. There are plenty such places on the Mountain and Paul said that we have much the highest I-Zone risk in the Beaudesert shire. He emphasised the need for Rurals and Urbans to work seamlessly together at all such fires. I-Zones are spreading rapidly across SE Queensland.
Paul went on to describe a system of ‘triage’ for I-Zone properties. Those that the occupiers would protect without help, those they could protect with help and those properties which could not safely be protected. Firie resources must be concentrated on the middle group. The last group should not be attended by Firies. He described the concept of ‘defensible space’. This is space and access around a property which allows fire crews to operate effectively and with reasonable safety as and when a fire front actually arrives. Paul also made the point that even in the worst fire houses seldom burned when the fire front was upon them. They almost all burned due to ’ember attack’ after the fire front had passed. Capable occupiers who stayed put, using the house as protection from the radiant heat of the passing fire front, were usually able to save their properties by extinguishing those small embers afterwards. The photos from Canberra of houses, side by side, some burned down and others almost undamaged were striking. The burned ones had been empty and the others occupied when the fire passed over.
For the many properties in the middle group occupiers can be greatly helped by the presence of a fire crew removing combustible items and laying foam as a protective coating before the event and helping put out embers afterwards. This is a key role of Fires in an I-Zone fire.
One of the long-serving Auxiliaries spoke about the very severe fires on the southern slopes of the Mountain in 1989. He said that the fire-weather conditions then were the worst he had ever seen anywhere. There was general agreement that this will happen again sometime.
“On 26th July Paul organised a communications exercise. All the trucks dispersed to first one and then another relatively remote and low lying spot on the Mountain. For example to the bottom of Kaiser Road, to Munro Court (beyond Laheys Lookout) and to Cedar Creek. When there each vehicle called Exercise Control at the Station both on the truck radio and on a handheld VHF. This was done first on our regular channel 16 and then on the Beaudesert repeater channel 60. The results were mixed. In TM51 at Kaiser Road end channel 16 worked quite well both from the truck and on the handheld. Channel 60 did not get a squeak. The other trucks had somewhat similar experiences although 41 and 52 were able to talk to each other on Ch 60.
The handhelds are just awaiting their new NiMH batteries complete with gold plated contacts. That should make a very large improvement in their performance. It is much needed. The problem with Ch 60 proved to be that the scan function on the Station VHF set does not include Ch 60. It should and this will be sorted soon. How much better to uncover and sort those problems on a training evening than at a real fire!
On Paul’s instructions drivers (provided they were properly licensed for the vehicle type) shared the driving. One did the outbound leg and the other the return. This also gave good practice to all concerned.