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Not just about bushfires
While CFA has been enduring a long, hot and busy fire season, the day-to-day business of responding to all types of emergencies continues.
By Brad Trewavis, Fire & Emergency Management – Specialist Response
CFA responds to house fires, car accidents, medical emergencies, rescues and a range of other incidents. This work doesn’t just stop during the few months of bushfire season.
CFA has had a particularly busy period for technical rescue incidents, rescue from confined spaces, trenches and from heights. In a seven-day period from 18 January to 24 January, CFA responded to five technical rescues and rescued four people and a dog.
On Monday 18 January, CFA responded to a woman and dog stuck on a cliff in Mt Eliza (District 8). CFA high angle rescue team (HART), in consultation with Victoria Police Search and Rescue, determined that CFA was best placed to rescue the pair. Two vertical rescue systems were set up, one to secure and later retrieve the woman and another to retrieve the dog.
Dandenong HART has been conducting training with Search and Rescue Dogs Australia (SARDA) over the previous year. This led to the knowledge that a specialised dog harness was available. SARDA was contacted by HART commander SO Alec Draffin en route to the scene, and this harness was used to secure the dog and attach to the rope rescue system. Local CFA and SES members assisted with carrying equipment and staging area management. The woman and her dog were uninjured.
Also on Monday 18 January, the Hume HART (Wodonga, Wangaratta and Mt.Beauty brigades), was responded to a person injured near Lady Bath Falls on Mt.Buffalo. CFA and SES assisted in the retrieval of the person who had leg injuries.
Wednesday 20 January saw a technical rescue team from across different districts work together to rescue a driver trapped in a car resting in a creek at the base of a 60 degree embankment in Cottles Bridge (District 14). Crews from Eltham, Plenty, Monbulk and Dandenong HART worked together to rescue the driver. Plenty brigade assisted by SES extricated the patient from the vehicle and Dandenong and Monbulk brought the patient up the embankment to the ambulance.
On Sunday 24 January, Dandenong HART was called out to Philip Island. Dandenong HART, along with Monbulk steep angle team, responded to a man and woman stuck on top of a cliff at the Pinnacles Cape Woolamai. After walking out along a narrow track off the main walking track, the soil began collapsing due to erosion and the sandy texture. The two people were concerned for their safety and unable to return to the main track. HART contacted VicPol Search and Rescue (as they are the control agency for land rescue events) to coordinate an effective response. VicPol responded HEMS1 and a SAR member.
As there are no trees, rocks or ability to use vehicle anchors, the SAR member and HART instructor established ‘picket’ anchors in the unstable soil. A safety line was then placed across the exposed narrow track. The patients were fitted with harnesses and escorted back to safety and were uninjured in the ordeal.
The high angle rescue team were assisted by local brigades and SES who provided all-terrain vehicles to transport crew and equipment along the sandy tracks. SES established the well-managed staging area located within an extremely busy car park and later was able to reinflate the vehicle tyres after the sand driving.
With all technical rescue events, the local brigades first on scene should be aware that the responding technical rescue team will ask for a situation report at the earliest opportunity. This situation report should not be what the local crew believe is needed, but should be a description of the facts. The provision of a mobile phone number (if available) can make providing a situation report easier and allows for a conversation between the technical rescue crew and the local members on scene.
The situation report should include items such as the number of people involved, how high they are, are they injured, what is trapping them, where the staging area is, etc.
First responders can also focus on planning a staging area and determining the access routes and methods required to get the technical rescue crew and equipment as close as possible. A number of local guides will be required, as it is likely that the technical resources will arrive in a range of vehicles and at different times.