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'Respect the ocean': Hastings Coast Guard
Sitting within the CFA command structure as a vehicle, Hastings Coast Guard takes control of an incident if there’s no land access, travelling under lights and sirens at up to 40 knots with a response time of 10 minutes.
They are a marine brigade specialising in on-water firefighting. Their response area is all Westernport Bay up to 15 nautical miles offshore. That’s 1200 square kilometres including French Island.
Their main vessel is a 9.5 metre plate aluminium custom-built vessel with a 300mm draught. The furthest they’ve taken it offshore was five nautical miles.
Jeremy West is the commander, the equivalent of a CFA captain, and is one of 10 CFA-accredited marine fire responders in the flotilla out of the 56 operational members. Patrols are carried out every Saturday and Sunday year-round and public holidays.
“Twenty per cent of our members aren’t local – they just like to get out regularly for free on the water,” said Jeremy.
“Every member has to do a Saturday or Sunday duty a month which is an all-day skills maintenance session. We will run a scenario such as a broken-down boat. The crew has to locate the vessel using traditional chart navigation then plot a course using marine and electronic GPS chart plotters.”
When approaching a disabled vessel, the crew has to ensure it’s seaworthy and hasn’t run aground with mud the main risk in Westernport.
“Two to three vessels run aground per month over summer,” continued Jeremy, “and it’s stupidity, plain and simple. It’s the thrill of the chase to catch fish and then the tide goes out, or it’s drunkenness and they crash into channel markers.
“Some people don’t respect the ocean and what it can do.
“The most common incidents are flat batteries and we will jump start them. If they are out of fuel we will tow them.
“We also respond to one or two on-water fatalities a year either off boats or divers. Unfortunately the body loses heat quickly in the water so thermal imaging tools have a short-use window. Even if the person was wearing a lifejacket that will eventually deflate and the majority of the time we are unable to locate a body.
“When something goes wrong, raising the alarm quickly is the key to survival on the water.
“In the CFA sense, the biggest risk is marina fires. Any vessel fire will burn to the waterline and the firefight is all about protection of near-by assets. We have marine saltwater engines so we fight fires with seawater using a slip-on pump and two-metre lengths of Duraline.”
Last year the flotilla responded to 124 incidents, five of them CFA incidents: a boat fire, a helicopter crash, a marina fire and Hastings and Crib Point bushfires.
At the latter they were tasked with rescuing a woman trapped on the beach. They also fed video and photos back to the ICC from the waterside, functioning as ground observers.
Hastings Coast Guard attends all CFA’s Westernport Group meetings and also does training exercises with the group.
Coast Guard is a registered training organisation and can run marine radio operator and boat operator courses and issue licences. Crew members work towards Certificate 2 in Competent Crew or deckhand qualifications over six months. Coxswain Grades 1 and 2 allow members to drive the vessel and eventually become master of the vessel.
Marine brigades resulted from a Memorandum of Understanding drawn up between the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard and CFA in 2005.