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Morwell Fire Brigade plays host

  • NSW firefighters at Morwell Fire Station
  • Baulkham Hills pumper in Gippsland

Morwell Fire Station has been hosting rotating crews from Fire and Rescue NSW and the Baulkham Hills pumper for weeks.

A station officer or senior station officer must operate on every shift with the NSW fireys who don’t have jurisdiction under the CFA Act. This frees up the majority of Morwell firefighters to attend the open cut fire.

“They’ve been absolutely awesome,” says Senior Station Officer Paul Fixter of the visitors. “They’re here to work and they’ve fitted in really well. It’s really hectic on station because a lot of our gear got used in the first couple of days at the open cut fire as well as the Hernes Oak and Maryvale paper mill fires. We didn’t have time to clean up because it was one thing after another so that’s left us with a lot to do now.

“We do a lot of comparing of areas and responsibilities and talking about how different it is from Bondi Beach! They can’t believe our level of responsibility, shared with Traralgon Fire Station, for the entire electricity infrastructure for the whole state.

“We don’t have that many false alarms here. When we get a call out, it’s usually something serious.”

The brigade responds to Morwell and Yallourn open cut mines and Yallourn, Hazelwood and Energy Brix power stations. They turn out an average of 700 times a year within a community of about 15,000 residents.

Paul worked as a career firefighter for 13 years in the ACT until 2009 and spent his last five years there as a compressed air foam (CAF) project manager.

ACT Fire and Rescue began looking into CAFs after the 2003 Canberra bushfires with the aim of saving more houses. It’s now come full circle with those same CAFS units assisting Victoria at the mine fire, giving Paul the chance to catch up with his old colleagues.

“CAFs is a US invention from about 30 years ago,” says Paul. “The ACT CAFs trucks were the first in Australia at the time and, as firefighters, we had a big hand in the design of the trucks. They have a Volvo cab chassis based on Papua New Guinean mine specifications. They carry 8000 litres of water plus CFA-approved Class A foam concentrate and an air compressor.

“The idea is to spread the foam on fine fuels and anything that’s porous. You would treat as many houses as possible before the fire front hits. In the ACT, we used it for grass and bushfires, tip and waste fires, woodchip and industrial fires. It can be used for both control lines and direct attack.

“It’s the first time CAFs has been used in Australia on a brown coal fire and it’s slowed down smoke production.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox.”

The CAFs units have now returned toTasmania but some ACT crews remain. Morwell Fire Station is keeping the kettle on with NSW fireys still rotating through and MFB dropping in for a cuppa.

“In all my years in the fire services, I’ve never seen so many crews respond together outside bushfire,” continues Paul. “It doesn’t matter where you come from; we’re all firefighters. It’s been a massive learning experience but also a great experience of camaraderie.

“It’s almost 40 days now but our crews keep going to the mine and they’ve still got a great attitude.

"Our local Officers in Charge Shane Mynard and Peter Lockwood have been extremely busy and have been a great asset with their local power industry knowledge.

"In an unprecedented incident like this, everyone just tries their best and you can’t ask more than that.”

Last Updated: 18 March 2014