News & Media

CFA vehicle incidents – case studies

  • Tanker going downhill
  • Driver distraction
  • Driver through red light
  • Reversing on a hill
  • Striking a station door
  • Tanker crossing bridge

By: Duncan Russell

Category: Operational Information

  1.57 PM 13 July, 2016

Location: General

Views: 6052

The ‘Learning from incidents’ section of Brigade magazine includes case studies of major incidents researched by Fire & Emergency Management. Here, we analyse several incidents involving CFA vehicles.

A case study is an explanatory story based on a real-life incident that looks at what happened and why it happened. The aim is for people to learn from the case study so they improve their decision making in time-critical situations.

If you have any observations or initiatives you would like to submit from your own experiences in emergency management, visit the Observation Sharing Centre:

CFA has around 3,300 vehicles in its fleet which are used to attend more than 80,000 incidents each year. They are driven by a wide range of people with varying levels of skill. Despite taking care, our vehicles are occasionally involved in collisions or incidents and it’s important we investigate them to find out how we can minimise the risks. State Driving Coordinator Glenn Jennings takes a look at some of these incidents to discover what we can learn.

Tanker going downhill

Incident overview

A tanker was part of a strike team that had finished operations and was returning to the staging area. The return trip involved a long downhill section that required constant monitoring of the truck’s speed. Towards the bottom of the hill, the driver noticed a lack of braking efficiency and then a total loss of brakes. The driver made the brave and probably lifesaving decision to steer the tanker off the road and into trees to slow down and ultimately stop the vehicle. The tanker was stopped by a large tree and one crew member received minor injuries.

Lessons identified

Strike team leaders (STLs) need to plan ahead and identify any possible hazards when moving vehicles from one location to another. The STL’s vehicle should lead a convoy to control its speed and to inform the following vehicles of any identified hazards. Drivers need to observe warning signs and act accordingly. For long downhill sections, drivers should select an appropriate low gear early in the descent to reduce reliance on the braking system. The gear that should be selected will depend on the grade of the descent, the vehicle’s weight and the type of ancillary braking system fitted (eg exhaust, engine, transmission).

In this incident, crew members wore seatbelts. It’s imperative that drivers and crew leaders make sure all vehicle occupants wear seatbelts. 

Drivers can read more online in the AFAC publication Drive Vehicles Under Operational Conditions (go to and CFA Safety Alert No.28 issued in February 2013 following this collision.

Driver distraction

Incident overview

A tanker rolled over after the driver lost control of the vehicle. He was distracted by using the CFA radio at the same time as negotiating a right-hand turn into a narrow roadway. The driver was the only occupant.

Lessons identified

When negotiating hazards such as cornering, ensure that you have two hands on the steering wheel. Drivers should not attempt to use communication devices or operate other controls when negotiating hazards. Where possible, it’s recommended that at least two members respond in firefighting vehicles so the driver can concentrate on driving and the other person can operate communication devices.

Driving through red light

Incident overview

A pumper collided with another vehicle at an intersection. There were two sets of traffic lights in close proximity that are not synchronised with each other. The pooling of different coloured lights and the environment created a situation where the driver mistakenly drove through a red light at a speed higher than intended.

Lessons identified

When approaching red traffic lights and stop signs, drivers must slow down to a speed that will enable them to stop and avoid any possible collision. Depending on the circumstances, the driver may need to come to a stop and remain stationary until the intersection is safe to enter. At night in particular, drivers need to be aware of the pooling of lights and slow the vehicle speed accordingly so they have enough time to process the information. The pooling of lights will create a more hazardous environment when it’s raining or when the roads are wet.

Reversing on a hill

Incident overview

A slip-on rolled over several times after the driver attempted to make a U-turn while reversing down a hill. The driver was helping a neighbouring brigade to crew the vehicle and this was the first time he’d driven the vehicle. In addition, he had very little experience in this type of terrain.

Lessons identified

The investigation identified areas for improvement in relation to transferring information on maps and in briefings to include all identified hazards and the importance of drivers having the appropriate skills for the environment.

This was one of several serious incidents over a few days at a campaign fire. Most damage and injuries occur after the first three days of a fire starting. This is most likely because of fatigue or less-experienced replacement crews who may not have been as familiar with the vehicles or terrain.

When reversing, drivers should use a guide where one is available. The guide should inspect the intended path of the vehicle and advise the driver of any hazards.

When traversing steep gradients, it’s important the vehicle travels as straight as possible and never attempts to turn across a slope.

The wearing of seatbelts is reducing serious injuries to CFA members and this incident was another reminder of their effectiveness.

Drivers can read more online in the AFAC publication Drive Vehicles Under Operational Conditions (go to and CFA Safety Alert No.28 issued in February 2013 following this collision.

Striking a station door

Incident overview

CFA vehicles hitting station doors during a turnout is becoming one of the most common causes of damage to vehicles and fire stations. Causes include faulty door catches or loss of safety systems when the power fails. However, the most common reason is drivers ignoring warning systems and proceeding against lights and/or alarms.

Lessons identified

Drivers or crew members need to ensure that station doors are fully up and that any locking mechanisms are working. If warning systems are installed, drivers must only exit the station in compliance with these systems. 

Due to vehicle and station designs, it’s recommended that passengers in the vehicle double check the position of doors before moving forward.

If the door is electrically operated, brigades should check their door systems to find out what happens during a power failure.

Tanker crossing bridge

Incident overview

A tanker attempted to cross a bridge on private property. Due to damage from a previous fire and lack of maintenance, the tanker damaged the bridge deck, fell through it and required heavy salvage. Before attempting to cross the bridge, the driver and crew leader discussed its suitability for the tanker. However, they didn’t get out to inspect it because there was evidence that other vehicles had recently used it.

Lessons identified

Drivers and crew leaders need to properly inspect all bridges and/or seek expect advice in relation to load capacity and other hazards. This is to ensure the bridge doesn’t have previous damage, rotten or burnt timbers, and no washaways at the approach or exit ramps. Drivers need to consider whether there’s a safer alternative to access the area.

A Red Flag Warning should be issued if a hazard is identified. Any information that’s critical for vehicles at the scene should be communicated in accordance with SOP J3.11 Red Flag Warnings.

This is not the first time a CFA tanker has fallen through a bridge on private property. A CFA Safety Alert (No.6) was issued in 2000 and there have been a number of similar incidents since then.


Last Updated: 13 July 2016