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Another great training opportunity

  • Fire Suppression
  • Lighting Crew

The CFA volunteers who attended the recent burn camp at Cape Otway would like to extend a huge thank you to the small team of people who made the event possible.

Mike Evans and Meaghan Cooper, stepping up to take on the extra load, pulled out all the stops to ensure the burn camp went ahead after Ian ‘Sparky’ Morrison, the VMO for Districts 6 and 7, became unwell a couple of days before the camp was due to start. He is always an integral part of these camps and he was sorely missed at Cape Otway. We all hope he will be back on deck again soon. 

We rely on this group to provide us with our practical training opportunities each year and that rare opportunity to put all the theory into practice in a controlled environment. A large number of us in Districts 6 and 7 have received part, if not all, of our theoretical training from Bushfire Instructors Mike Evans and Peter Cecil and already know them pretty well. They are well placed to assess where we all sit in terms of experience and skill and this means that they can easily assign roles and groupings of volunteers for the best learning outcomes. 

This year over eighty people took advantage of the opportunity to gain new skills, be mentored for new roles and responsibilities, and fill in a few more pages of those all-important Field Evidence Guide Books. 

If you are new to CFA, have just completed Minimum Skills and are nervous about your pager going off and how useful you would actually be if you turned out, then burn camp is for you. This is an environment where everyone is there to learn, whether targeting basics or furthering their skills. More importantly, it is the place where everyone has time to give advice and direction. It is your only chance to learn on a real fireground from expert trainers who are there with the sole purpose of teaching. More experienced members also guide you, are assigned to you as mentors, and contribute to the learning environment. You can be the person at camp who knows the least … and you will still find it impossible to feel like a complete duffer. 

As Bannockburn Captain and Anakie Group DGO Barry Planner says, there is more knowledge and experience to be gained in a short time at the camp than in many years of brigade turn-outs. 

Barry believes the camp is not just for beginners and that, “all prospective and current crew leaders should endeavour and would be encouraged to attend camps in the future, even if it is only for one day”.  Further, it is Barry’s opinion that, “burn camps should be considered alongside the Fire Line Leadership Course and, in fact, are a great partner with it in the development of future leaders”.

Senior Instructor Roger Strickland from CFA's Burwood headquarters was at the camp to provide guidance and mentor volunteers, particularly in the area of lighting patterns. He believes everyone found the entire experience valuable. 

“Comments I heard from participants were, 'I learnt how I could use different lighting patterns to light damp or dry vegetation', 'it was interesting to see how the burns were organised and managed, and the amount of work involved', 'I was a bit nervous at first on arrival, but by the end of the camp I didn’t want to leave!'”

Safety is another aspect of burn camp. It is uppermost in the trainers’ minds and there are constant reminders of what to look out for and how to deal with safety issues. Some of this may seem like common sense, but it can be easy to overlook certain factors when there is the distraction of a fire! The days start with pre-burn briefings where safety concerns are highlighted. These messages continue through the day, and are again addressed at the debriefs. What you are left with is a greater tendency to be naturally aware of your surroundings and of potential dangers to yourself and others. 

The safety aspect does not just apply to the volunteers. Better trained, more competent fire fighters with an increased ability to predict fire behaviour result in a safer community. More flexible members who have had experience with a wide range of appliances and equipment, who have learnt respect for the fireground, who have gained a healthy and realistic confidence in their own skills, can only mean greater safety for those they protect. Burn camp is not the only place this can be achieved, but many participants believe it is the best place.

Dave ‘H2O’ Kahout from Wye River says he has the utmost respect for Mike Evans and Peter Cecil, “because without the burn camps and training, when the fires are here … (we) … won’t have the training and confidence we need”.  He credits burn camps with invaluable hands on training which is key to volunteer confidence and the ability to protect lives and property.

Not only do you learn new skills, you make new friends.  As Sam Turner from Torquay Brigade says, he now knows that the next time he goes to a big campaign fire he is sure to recognise familiar faces on the fire ground.  Cape Otway was his first burn camp and he is certain it will not be his last.

Despite the uncooperative weather, there was plenty to keep everyone busy.  Some burns were possible at Cape Otway and a few days were spent burning at Brucknell.

Chris Lahiff, a Coastal Group DGO training for Level 1 Burn IC, uses burn camps to maintain and increase his skills and says that there is ‘not a better place to see fire behaviour’.  “Mike, Sparky and Meaghan’s work is faultless – I couldn’t thank them enough”, he said.

As a mother of two young children and with the responsibility of a property and livestock to care for, this is my only chance to gain hot fire experience with experienced trainers who have the time to spend teaching me. Knowing that a burn camp is scheduled gives me time to organise for the children to be minded and the animals fed while I am away. Those who are employed can arrange for time off work. 

Accommodation and really great food is provided and all you need to do is turn up for a day or two, or even for the week. It feels like an adventure holiday, but you come away with more serious fire fighting skills, a better understanding and new friends from other brigades.

Last Updated: 22 April 2016