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When life imitates training
When Carrum Downs turned out to a fire at a small factory last November, there was something eerily familiar about the whole thing. In fact, only three months earlier the brigade had turned out to an almost identical incident – but as part of a training exercise.
The similarities between November’s fire and the training scenario were striking: both involved a fire in the left of two small adjoining factories, where the site layout allowed access for an aerial appliance.
Stephen Rhodes, current captain at Carrum Downs, designed the August exercise, and is still staggered by the extent to which it was a blueprint for the real-life incident.
“We pulled up at the factory as if it was on fire, set up hoses for attack lines, set up ladders, and had simulated forcible entry through the factory roller doors using a quick-cut saw,” he said, describing the exercise, which was attended by 17 Carrum Downs brigade members and three career firefighters on shift from nearby Patterson River.
“It was decided that if we had an aerial appliance we would put it at the rear, making use of some vacant land, and that we would go in through the skylight to deliver water.
“Members were able to familiarise themselves with the equipment on Patterson River’s vehicle, and the processes for relaying water,” he said.
Stephen said access was considerably easier at the November incident.
“Leaving the station the crew saw large plumes of black smoke, and arrived to find the left of two adjoining factories on fire,” he said.
“Fortunately, there were two workers present who had the roller doors open to provide access.
“This meant crews were able to enter quickly using BA and knock over the fire fairly quickly. But at the same time the Incident Controller had the Frankston teleboom in place ready to assist, thanks to available land at the side and rear.”
Taking the coincidence further, it was the same personnel from Paterson River that were on shift, who had discussed the possibility of relaying water on the way to the job.
“We didn’t need that in the end but the point is that contingency would have been well handled,” Stephen said.
He added that the experience had been a good reminder and reinforced the importance of training.
“Training is about making skills and tasks into habits, so then in the time of an emergency things just happen automatically.
“This emergency was real proof of that philosophy.”