News & Media

Numurkah telephone exchange fire 2015 – case study

By: Duncan Russell

Category: Operational Information

  10.17 AM 1 September, 2015

Location: General

Views: 2517

The ‘Learning from incidents’ section of Brigade magazine includes case studies of major incidents researched by Fire & Emergency Management. Here, we analyse the 2015 Numurkah telephone exchange fire.

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.

If you have any observations or initiatives you would like to submit from your own experiences in emergency management, visit the Observation Sharing Centre:

Incident overview

At 4.34am on 20 April 2015, Numurkah Fire Brigade responded to an alarm at the Numurkah telephone exchange. The brigade’s pumper, field command vehicle and tanker went to the incident, with automatic support from Wunghnu brigade’s tanker. At the scene, there was no visible sign of fire, despite the fire indicator panel showing multiple detectors operating. On further inspection, smoke was visible in the building and the incident controller requested the Shepparton aerial pumper because of the potential for the fire to escalate.

The members of the brigade had good knowledge of the building because it was one of their alarm-monitored sites and they had inspected it a number of times.

A fire was found in the room containing batteries. Thanks to their local knowledge, the brigade knew that isolating the power would have led the generators and battery supplies to continue to power the Telstra equipment. The brigade entered the room wearing breathing apparatus and carrying a dry chemical powder extinguisher and a hose line, and found the battery bank was on fire. Using two quick blasts from the dry chem, they were able to knock down the main fire. The facility’s CO2 extinguishers, which were already in the building, were used to extinguish the remaining fire above the battery banks.

The brigade used positive pressure ventilation to remove the acrid black smoke being produced by the burning electrical insulation. Gas detection was used to ensure the CO2 gases had been removed from the building.

Although the Telstra equipment in the room was significantly damaged, the fire was contained to the room of origin and the remaining equipment in the building was still operable. The damage to the exchange affected around 1,800 of the 2,400 landlines in the local area, but it had the potential to cause outages to a much larger area. The brigade was unaware of the full extent of the outage at the time of the incident.

Back at the station, brigade members contacted their remaining alarmed premises and high-risk facilities to alert them to alternate brigade activation methods if required.

Lessons identified

Knowing the risks in a facility The brigade had intimate knowledge of the layout of the building, hazards risks within the facility, alternate power supplies and the location of fire protection systems. While brigade pre-plans are an extremely effective tool to record and share information, they are enhanced by local members’ practical knowledge and comprehensive understanding of the risks within a facility.

Gaining entry quickly The brigade had keys to the premises and was able to quickly gain entry to begin a size up. This ensured that the fire was contained quickly before travelling throughout the building.

Specialist fire extinguishers Knowing the location of the facility’s specialist fire extinguishers helped initial responders to contain and extinguish the fire.

Additional resources The early response of additional resources after initial size up ensured there was no delay in specialist support arriving.

Working with the community The brigade members’ connections with the community meant they could help the community recover, and put in place redundancy plans until they could confirm the extent of the network outages.

VicFire The day shift fire service communications controller at VicFire also ensured redundancy plans were considered across the wider call-taking and dispatch of emergency services in the area.


This fire could have impacted the local community and broader telecommunication networks more significantly if it wasn’t for the effective initial attack from brigades. Understanding the risk played a significant part in limiting the impact on the community. The fire and subsequent damage was contained to only one part of the facility, and this ensured that the communications providers were able to reinstate all communication networks within two days.

The degree of connection between the brigade and the community had a marked influence on the outcome of this event.

Last Updated: 08 April 2016