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Learning through case studies
Each issue of Brigade magazine contains a ‘Learning from experience’ section which includes case studies of major incidents researched by Fire & Emergency Management.
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.
Each case study gives an overview of the incident containing all the important facts and a list of lessons identified. These lessons will help CFA members in a similar situation to make good decisions.
Anthrax sheep burn
In February 2017, Whittlesea Fire Brigade in District 14, attended a livestock burn involving anthrax. The crew was requested to support the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) by securing the burn and patrolling for spotting and fire outbreaks.
Although very few cases of anthrax have been reported in Victoria, it’s important that all CFA members are aware of the risks and procedures before entering a property with anthrax.
On 7 February at 6.31pm, the rostered duty officer (RDO) received a phone call from Agriculture Victoria requesting CFA attend a livestock burn. Because the burn was during the Fire Danger Period, a permit was issued and CFA attended to provide fire protection. A suitable area had been identified with limited vegetation surrounding it.
The RDO contacted the state duty officer (SDO) and the scientific officer for guidance and precautionary recommendations for the crew attending. The brigade was to stand a minimum 30 metres from the fire, upwind, wear P2 masks and to be only used for fire protection. The crew was also given decontamination instructions to follow before leaving the premises.
Whittlesea tankers 1 and 2 and the RDO arrived on the property at 7.47pm and were well informed and briefed of the situation and the risks before entering the property. The crew supervised the burn from a distance and, by 11.27pm, all carcasses had been destroyed. The crew then followed the decontamination procedure and returned to Whittlesea Fire Station.
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is an infectious disease in animals caused by the spore-forming bacteria Bacillus anthracis. It can affect humans and a wide range of animals, though in Victoria almost all cases have been in cattle and sheep.
There are two types of anthrax that can affect humans: cutaneous anthrax and inhalation (pulmonary) anthrax.
A cutaneous anthrax infection enters your body through a cut or other sore on your skin. It’s by far the most common route the disease takes. It’s also the mildest. With appropriate treatment, cutaneous anthrax is rarely fatal. Signs and symptoms of cutaneous anthrax include a raised, itchy bump resembling an insect bite that quickly develops into a painless sore with a black centre, and swelling in the sore and nearby lymph gland.
Inhalation anthrax develops when you breathe in anthrax spores. It’s the most deadly way to contract the disease and, even with treatment, is often fatal. Initial signs and symptoms of inhalation anthrax include flu-like symptoms such as sore throat, mild fever, fatigue and muscle aches which may last a few hours or days, mild chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, coughing up blood and painful swallowing.
When to see a doctor
For CFA members attending an anthrax-infected property, the risk of infection is very low unless you are handling or in close proximity to carcasses. However, if you have any concerns or you have other medical issues that may make you more susceptible to infections, see a doctor immediately for evaluation and care. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
Other recent livestock burns around the state have not been as successful. To ensure the safety of our members, the following should be considered.
- The RDO should notify VicFire if DEDJTR contacts CFA directly.
- The RDO should liaise with the DEDJTR and Agriculture Victoria representatives to ensure CFA member interests are taken into account when determining CFA’s commitment.
- The RDO should contact the scientific officer for advice.
- The RDO should discuss the burn plan with the Agriculture Victoria infected premises site supervisor.
- The RDO should also advise the SDO.
- Communication between the RDO and brigade is vital, especially if plans change. This will allow the RDO to review the situation and help the brigade.
- A risk assessment must be carried out before entering the property. It’s important to understand the risks and have a well-developed plan.
- Monitor the operation and adjust your strategy and tactics if required.
- CFA is a support agency at these incidents. Our role is to support the control agency by providing fire protection. CFA members must never come into contact with infected carcasses.
When working on anthrax-infected properties (and not coming into contact with carcasses) the following hygiene practices must be followed:
- All people should, as a minimum requirement, wear firefighting boots and bushfire personal protective clothing. When supervising the burning of anthrax-infected carcasses, a P2 mask should also be worn.
- All people should practise good hygiene, ensuring they thoroughly wash and disinfect hands and boots at the entry/exit points of the property.
- All vehicles that enter the infected property must be washed down before leaving the property.
- All the above must be undertaken in accordance with instructions from the Agriculture Victoria infected premises site supervisor.
Anthrax burns occur from time to time and it’s imperative that all brigade members (supported by the SDO, RDO and scientific officer) are aware of their role and responsibility, and that the agency conducting the burn understands CFA’s level of commitment.
The safety and welfare of CFA members is paramount.