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Summer fire season preparation
A Guide for CFA firefighters by Dirty Harry Productions: This document was written by Lt Peter Harry in November 2012 for members of the Mount Macedon Group. This is shared in Peter's memory.
Now is the time to prepare for the coming Summer Fire Season. Preparation should occur at both Personal and Brigade level.
SAFETY must be given priority in all fire fighting activities!!!
Deployment to a wildfire can be one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences of your life and yet it can also be a very stressful time for you, your crew and your family. Have no doubt rural fire fighting is a totally different ball game to urban fire fighting. The fire front can move at a frightening rate, wind and weather changes can be disastrous. Conditions can be most distressing due to heat, high winds and in unfamiliar territory.
In the event of a major rural fire, you may not be involved in your own Brigade area, or on your Brigade appliance, or with Brigade members known to you. Your own personal preparation will be the major factor in how you perform.
Physical and Mental Fitness and Capabilities
Be aware of your own limitations and check:
Tiredness, Fatigue, etc
After a long day at work you need to assess if you are physically and mentally fit enough to tackle a possible major and prolonged incident.
Notify your O.I.C. if you have any special considerations he/she needs to be aware of, or you can’t perform a task you have been assigned. It’s safer for you and your crew to be honest about your ability to perform a task.
Mental fatigue and stress levels – always have an internal assessment about how you are feeling about the role and other things outside of CFA that may impact on your mental health. Should I limit my availability?
Talk to your Family and Employer
Your first and foremost commitment must always be to your family and secondly to your employer. As you are aware CFA does not pay your bills, nor does it provide the support your family expects and requires of you.
Prior to the fire season I encourage you to sit down with your family and employer and engage them in a conversation that will establish a clear understanding and some ground rules thus reducing the potential for confusion and unrest if a significant fire should occur.
Here are some suggestions for your conversation with the family:
Can you be away from home for possibly 3 – 5 days?
Will your family need some support while you are away?
What are the financial implications?
Who can they ring in the event of an emergency?
Are there any important family events scheduled?
Does your family understand what a Strike Team deployment is?
Will your children be worried about you? (Media coverage)
How can your family contact you in the event of an emergency?
Brigade support in your absence
Here are some suggestions for your employer conversation:
Explain the role of a CFA volunteer Firefighter
Provide employer with the Employer Information Brochure
Ask if you are able to leave work for a fire/incident.
What effect does this have for you and the company?
Is this annual leave, leave without pay, paid leave?
Impact on other employees within the company?
How much time can you take, 1, 3, 5 days?
How much notice do you have to provide prior to leaving work?
A new section of the CFA website has been created for employers at http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/employers.htm.
Notify the Captain of any pending absences for holidays, etc.
Keep the Brigade availability roster up-to-date.
Advise immediately of any changes to contact numbers.
Advise immediately of any changes to availability due to illness or injury.
If I attend a fire call during the day and it becomes a prolonged one, who will collect my children from school?
Know your equipment and attend training
Attend training as often as you can.
You should know what everything is, where it is and how to use it.
Brush up on rural fire fighting basics.
Check the equipment personally, be comfortable with it and if unsure ask your mentor or an Officer.
Build good teamwork with your fellow fire fighters.
Practice draughting on all appliances.
At training, work hard in full uniform, after all that’s what will be expected of you in the field.
Review the 10 STANDARD FIRE ORDERS, WATCHOUTS, LACES and the SMEACS briefing format.
Ensure you meet the Chief Officer’s minimum skills requirements for the wildfire season.
If you require additional training, contact the Brigade training officer.
Review Brigade SOP’s and Standing Orders.
Review Chief Officer’s Standing Orders and SOP’s.
Tips for New Members on Strike Teams:
What is a Strike Team? It consists of 5 like vehicles (Tankers or Pumpers). A Task Force consists of 5 differing vehicles (Pumper, Tanker, MCV, Slip On and BA Van)
Remember that you may be away for up to 24 hours or possibly longer so be clear whether you are available or not for Strike Team deployment.
Support forces will generally have a number of hours notice and you would normally be contacted by telephone.
Prepare a bag for Strike Team calls. Refer to the personal kit list provided.
Take all of your Wildfire Turnout gear.
Strike Team calls normally require relieving, so change over crews may be organised at Brigade level.
Not everyone can go on a Strike Team, so remember the extra effort required of those left behind.
Try and be as self reliant as possible, carry water. Remember the ration packs and water bottles are there to be used.
Be aware of what is happening in your Brigade area:
- Fire hazards
- Road blockages
- Problems with water mains
- Take note of any special messages on your pager.
What do I do if Media approach me? Do not make any comments to any form of the media without the expressed permission of the Incident Controller via your Strike Team Leader.
What is a Staging Area? A staging area is a designated point where resources are despatched to for an incident. They are checked in, parked, fed, watered and then deployed to the fire. Catering, CIS, equipment supplies, mechanical repairs and operational briefings are conducted at a staging area. T Cards are your passports in and out of the staging area and incident. Every resource has a T card listing the crew members and specific equipment on the vehicle. The T card checking process and maintenance is the responsibility of the crew leader.
Be aware of current & forecast weather conditions. Before being deployed, we encourage all Brigade members to visit the BoM site to maintain an overview of the current and forecast weather conditions go to www.bom.gov.au. Be aware of Victorian Weather and Warnings/ All Victorian Forecasts/ Bushfire Danger/ Victorian Fire Danger Ratings.
As a member of a CFA Brigade, you are a member of a team. That team has leaders, that is, the Brigade Officers. Just as you rely on them for leadership and operational command, they rely on you to carry out your assigned task efficiently. To do this you must be prepared and operate as a team
Personal Gear for Wildfire:
Ensure turnout uniform is in good repair. Wear them at the next training session to make sure they are still suitable for your use. If not, advise the Brigade Secretary.
“Must have” items
Box of matches
Water bottle or container
Face cloth or bandanna
Personal Kit for Strike Team Deployment:
Footwear for down time
Woollen jumper or jacket for evening
Plastic Bag (Dirty Clothes)
Update contact lists
Brigade Contact List
Critical Incident Stress Support
Brigade Members to contact family
Be familiar with the Brigade area. After all, other Brigades will expect YOU to know the area and how to access it.
Know the whereabouts of water points, hydrant and static.
Know how to access fill points, which way tracks go, where the gates are and which key
fits which gate.
Be aware of vehicle restrictions or vehicles’ load restrictions, creeks, bike tracks, bridges and overhead clearance.
Make sure maps are up-to-date and suitable copies are available for other Brigades if required.
Verify the availability and skills of the vehicle drivers.
Update the vehicle accreditation list (off road and on road).
Get out in the vehicles and drive them.
Be aware of the track conditions in the parks and quarries.
Use the ROPS intercom.
Know how to operate all equipment.
Accredited first aiders to brush up on Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stress/Heat Stroke.
Ensure members of vehicle crews have adequate supplies of drinking water.
Practice with and test vital equipment such as EADs and do regular inventory checks on the Brigade first aid kits.
Know the Communications Plans in your own group and neighbouring groups/Districts.
Check radio coverage in suspected bad areas, especially on the “Fire ground” channels.
Review group and region communications plans.
Where possible keep family informed of your movements.
Prepare a list of private available appliances in case you need them.
Liaise with the owners and keep track of the availability of the machinery and operators.
Ensure private appliances and machinery are registered with Region.
Appliances and Equipment checks
Ensure all equipment is operational.
Ensure hose is in good repair and in sufficient supply.
Ensure vehicles are serviced prior to the summer fire season.
Ensure all equipment is in a good state of repair and working well.
Ensure that all vehicles are carrying drinking water and ration packs.
Contact with family and community via Support Members / Auxiliary
Make sure a current list of phone numbers is available.
Liaise with the auxiliary re: emergency provisions.
Ensure contact is made with the auxiliary when a major incident occurs.
Ensure a telephone tree is set up to allow family to know what is going on throughout a Strike Team deployment.
Lt Peter Harry
This was written on 8th November 2012.
Lt Peter Harry died at a house fire in Gisborne on the 30th December 2012