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New signs could save lives
Emergency Services Safer Areas (ESSAs), a term used by VicRoads along the Hume Freeway, has been adopted by Strathbogie Shire Council and the Upton Hill Fire Brigade to improve firefighter safety on some of the shire's roads.
By Gary Washusen
In an attempt to make Upton Road safer, signs designating these ESSAs have been established as a pilot program.
Upton Hill brigade Captain John McGregor had concerns about firefighter safety when responding to a callout and the possibility of the fire truck and crew being trapped on the road and engulfed in fire. Sometimes during a running fire, with ever-changing conditions, things can go wrong. Often, during the worst fire conditions, high winds will bring down trees or limbs, blocking traffic and creating a potentially fatal situation.
Working with Gary Washusen, Strathbogie Shire Council’s Emergency Management Fire Coordinator and Fire Prevention Officer, John focused on roadside fuel loadings. Over the years, limb fall and vegetation debris have built up on the road reserve. Council as the road authority, has little financial resources to work within the native vegetation legislation and, consequently, generally limits road maintenance to the pavement and drainage. This provides a safe passage for motorists under most conditions but does little to address fire management issues.
Following the 2009 bushfires, the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission identified roadside fuel as an issue and made recommendations that impacted councils and VicRoads (road managers) and the Department of Environment and Primary Industry (native vegetation managers).
Clearing sections of the roadside to establish safe 'pull-off' areas was explored. The idea of finding a cleared section of roadside every 3-4 minutes of travel time would give fire trucks and other traffic somewhere to take refuge if faced with a blocked road during a fire.
With input from CFA Vegetation Management Officer Phil Hawkey, focus moved to establishing ESSAs on private property. Grazing country is typical of the Strathbogie Ranges, so adjacent to the road reserve the fire fuel is generally only grass. If work is needed to reduce the risk, removal of native vegetation is not required. Slashing is usually all that's required.
Where there are significant quantities of low and elevated fire fuels (ie grass and scrub) at a site, the higher the radiant heat generated. Radiant heat is a killer in bushfire. In technical terms, CFA uses a radiant heat flux of 10kw/m2 as the allowable safe limit for a person in a car or building.
John consulted with his neighbours and fire brigade members along Upton Road and had full cooperation in establishing ESSAs along the road. The only requirement from the landowner is to keep grass to a reasonable length (ie about 100mm during the fire season) for an area of about one acre inside the gateway that has been designated as an ESSA.
A triangular red sign (see phot, below), similar to CFA water point signs, would then be installed on the roadside at the gateway to mark the ESSA. John was keen to acknowledge that Hunters Rural of Euroa has been generous in donating star pickets that formed part of the ESSA signs.
The whole process will be managed by Upton Hill brigade. Before the fire season, landowners will be consulted to see whether they are still happy to participate. Slashing or grazing is then undertaken, if necessary, to reduce grass. The brigade will install the signs and remove them at the end of the season.
Another element in this pilot program is the implementation of a second new sign. Council and CFA developed a design showing a flame over a car. The principle is the same as the standard black on gold road warnings signs seen anywhere on our roads. The message is clear that there may be fire risk on the road.
With the sign positioned where motorists enter a high-risk road (eg leaving the Hume Freeway to enter the Strathbogie Ranges), the message might stop someone unfamiliar with the area and the risk, from travelling into a potentially dangerous situation. This sign has potential to be used statewide and discussion are in progress with VicRoads.
This initiative has the potential to save lives and can be used on all roads where there are high roadside fuel loads. Members of the public are invited to provide comment. Council and CFA are keen to improve community safety and look forward to any comments by phone or in person at the Shire Office in Euroa.
For more information, please contact Gary Washusen.