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Fire behaviour analysis mentoring
Up until 2007 there was no formal fire behaviour analysis (FBAN) training offered within Victoria.
The role is now being developed as part of the IMTTP and coaching and mentoring are part of the package.
Tim Wells has been mentored in the role since 2008 and, in turn, became a coach in 2011. With a background as a leading firefighter, Tim had his first encounter with FBANs in 2002/03 as a ground observer reporting to people making detailed incident predictions.
“I saw that they really understood fire,” said Tim. “My interest progressed on the back of a lot of conversations, then I worked on reconstructing the spread of the Black Saturday fires. That’s where the FBAN role clicked for me. We looked in detail at spotting and atmospheric conditions and theory and practice gelled.”
There are now about 30 active Victorian FBANs from CFA, DSE, Vic Forests and Parks Victoria who work closely with meteorologists.
“FBANs are activated before a fire starts,” he explained. “We assess potential fire behaviour for the next week and then look in more detail for the next day or two.
“I think what gets me in is that there are very few black and white answers. You can’t just do a course and pick it up. There are so many intangibles in the role. We talk about the art and science of fire behaviour analysis. It takes rational analysis but also intuition. But then some of it is counterintuitive!
“There was a last wag in the tail of the 2009 fire season and I had an FBAN mentor from Noojee. Fire had flared up near Noojee, burning across the slope into the wind which was unusual. We didn’t have a predictive rule to follow but my mentor used his experience and local knowledge to modify some rules of thumb. It also helped that he’d worked through lots of scenarios considering things like long-term effects of the drought and recent timber harvesting.”
The informed depth of his response made a striking impression on Tim but also on DSE Chief Fire Officer Ewan Waller. “In answer to the question, ‘How confident are you?’ my mentor pointed to the map and said, ‘That’s my house and I’m not worried,’ recalls Tim. “It was definitive. It’s easy to bamboozle people but his information was simple, not simplistic. That’s the challenge.”