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Scotland visits Hillcrest
It was a wet and windy night when two international visitors from Scotland popped into Hillcrest Fire brigade. Chris Smith and Lorna Rumgay are holidaying in Australia and were keen to visit a fire station in Victoria and learn more about the local fire service.
Both Chris and Lorna are from Tayside Fire and Rescue Service, which covers an area of approximately 7,500 square kilometres, with a population of 392,000. The majority of the population is centred in Dundee and Perth with the remainder spread throughout a number of towns and villages in Angus and Perth and Kinross. Tayside Fire and Rescue's 668 operational firefighters crew a total of 50 fire appliances based at 24 strategically located fire stations. Scotland has a mix of career, retained and volunteer fire fighters: 409 are operational wholetime firefighters, 236 are retained firefighters, and 24 volunteer firefighters.
Chris is at Station 21 – Perth and Lorna is at Station 30 - Blairgowrie. Chris is a permanent career fire fighter while Lorna is a retained fire fighter. Retained fire fighters are paid an annual retained, hourly rate for training and maintenance in addition to payment for attendance at incidents.
Chris and Lorna listened in on the brigade Leadership development program which is aimed at developing officers’ skills across a wide range of areas, both operational and non-operational. This session was around conflict resolution and was facilitated by Operations Officer Graeme Bourne. These sessions are designed to be 20-25 minutes ‘challenges’ and provide an opportunity to discuss different perspectives, learn new techniques and reinforce operational training. Lorna thought these were a great concept and wryly admitted that HR issues are the same the world over.
A tour of Hillcrest appliances was in order, with the light pumper, 3.4C and 2.4D in attendance. Of particular interest was the crew protection spray system which is something they are not familiar with.
Both took the opportunity to be part of the nights training which involved a timed TEWT around a recent local grass fire. They readily admitted that they were unfamiliar with grass fire attack strategies; but dynamic risk assessment, size up, communications planning, command and control were all concepts they well used to, even if they used slightly different terms.
The closest Tayside would come to a grass fire is heather fires. The room promptly went silent when Lorna explained they may walk in 2-3 hours and they use beaters to put them out. Their trucks do not have pump and roll capacity and in any event the terrain means that many of these heather fires are inaccessible by vehicle.
At the conclusion of the TEWT they took the opportunity to talk about the Scottish Fire Service and answer questions from brigade members. It was a fantastic opportunity to discuss similarities and differences between the fire agencies. In April Scotland is transitioning to ‘one fire service’ and both admit there will be challenges in the transition. Their radio systems are different with a channel being assigned on turnout; and they do not suffer congestion issues on the radio as each channel can be split so they are not all talking over the top of each other.
Also different was each truck has a computer terminal which tells them who is coming & who is unavailable. Retained members respond by text or call through a mobile interface. The terminal also has topographical maps, pre-plans, GPS locator and directs the appliance to most direct route to the incident.
Their breadth of training is more extensive and includes marine rescue, mountain rescue and specialist medical emergency training: much of this training is not available to volunteer members. Outside the specialist training, they attend similar incidents as we do here – the only difference to Hillcrest is they need to contend with snow and ice.
A great night was had by all and the brigade thanked Chris and Lorna for coming to share their experiences with brigade t-shirts, caps and trauma teddy to remind them of their short time here with us.