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From the Tasmanian front line
Frank Beukelman was in the second wave of deployments to Tasmania, operating as a strike team leader out of the Stanley base camp to the Pipeline Road fire on the west coast.
“They were long days,” said Frank, “because the fireground was about two hours from Stanley. We were working off bulldozer tracks in terrain that was initially rainforest then forest and scrub. There were no towns; it was wilderness.
“We did a 200-hectare backburn protecting the Bass Highway and coastal communities working with RFS [NSW Rural Fire Service] and the Tasmanian forestry service. From the second day onwards we were working blacking out the untracked edge and the most surprising feature was the soft, peat-like ground. That had an effect on forest stability with exposed tree roots meaning there was potential for trees to fall over. There were no tracks, no trails and you had the feeling that you could have been the first person to ever walk in that exact place.
“It was rewarding working with the other fire services – great camaraderie all round – and the leaders of the RFS and Tasmanian Fire Service [TFS] dropped in to see us.”
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and TFS Chief Officer Gavin Freeman arrived by chopper to learn more about conditions on the ground, with CFA Chief Officer Joe Buffone paying a flying visit to crews in the field in the week following.
District Mechanical Officer (DMO) Chris Harry was in the first wave of deployment s and helped set up Stanley base camp to suit his team. They were doing preventative servicing of CFA, South Australian Country Fire Service, RFS, TFS and Forestry Tasmania vehicles within the base camp at the end of each shift.
“The most common faults with the trucks were air cleaners blocking and blowing out radiators,” said Chris. “One power steering hose burst and we had to do a patch-up job in the field.”
Geelong DMO Damien Hendy took over the tools for the second deployment.
“I’ve certainly seen a lot worse at other fires,” he said. “We had a few damage issues on ultralights with the spare wheels underneath the vehicles torn off. There were a few melting issues like plastic indicator lights that got too close to the fire. Apart from that, if there was a problem people would leave us a list and we’d work through it.”
Thanks to Frank Beukelman for all photos