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Volunteering as Air Attack Supervisor
Newham volunteer Andrew Avent has an ideal background for air attack supervision. He’s been with CFA for 12 years and is Wildfire 2 and crew leader qualified so he understands fire behavior.
He’s also a licensed aircraft engineer by trade, working with Qantas out of Melbourne airport, so he understands the mechanics of aircraft and their performance capabilities. He’s also volunteered as an air observer for seven years, so he’s learned how to combine his two areas of expertise, reading a fire from the air.
“I’ve been volunteering as an air attack supervisor for two years now,” says Andrew. “Bendigo is my primary base but I’ve also worked out of Ballarat and the Grampians.”
The air attack supervisor flies alongside the firebomber, tactically controlling all aircraft over the fire and liaising back to the incident controller (IC) and incident control centre (ICC).
“I relay messages to aircraft,” continues Andrew, “and discuss with the ground how effective the drop was. We do a lot of calculations: how much water was in each drop, how many drops we do, where the water was from. I monitor the fuel in all the aircraft and advise the aircraft officer whether we need fuel remotely.
“We can see the weather. My role is to obey all safety procedures. We see storms approaching. I continually monitor weather and other hazards and make the decision on whether it’s safe to continue or we have to pull out. Our release comes from the IC unless it’s a safety issue – then I make the decision.
“It’s very busy! There are multiple radios running. You have to be quick thinking, able to communicate effectively, have fireground experience and understand how machinery works.”
Andrew has worked across some of the recent major fires in District 2. He was an air observer over the Pastoria and Mia Mia fire late last year – his first time working with the large air tankers. He was also an air attack supervisor early last year over the Gisborne/Riddells Creek fire. While he is tied in to District 2 headquarters, aircraft and personnel are a state asset and may be given a movement order if large fires flare far from home base.
There are fire agency and State Aircraft Unit procedures to comply with in relation to flight and duty times. Aircrews are limited to a maximum of 10 hours in one day and up to 40 hours over a six day period followed by a two day break.
Andrew is one of four volunteers working as an air attack supervisor out of District 2. They’re on site at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning airbase in Bendigo on their assigned days. It’s daylight-hours work – on call from first to last light – which requires a flexible employer, and Andrew is grateful that Qantas readily releases him for his volunteer shifts.
It’s a large commitment for someone volunteering their services.
“I do it for love and to help the community,” Andrew says. “I like the aircraft and the fire background.”