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Collaboration takes to the sky

  | Liselotte Geary Views: 2027

A collaborative approach was vital when Victoria’s emergency services used night firebombing on bushfires for the first time in Australia at the height of the past bushfire season.

Collaboration takes to the sky

CFA Deputy Chief Officer Alen Slijepcevic writes for this month's issue of International Firefighter Magazine.

The article, co-authored with Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp (EMV) and FFM Vic  Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman, outlines to an international audience how the services’ “We Work as One” mantra is the key to successfully managing Victoria’s risk as one of the world’s most bushfire prone areas.

No longer a summer phenomenon only – in Victoria or the other states and countries that we work with – bushfires pose a risk to lives and property from late winter to mid-autumn.

From the fires in our state’s south west in March 2018, to last August’s fire in the state’s far east, and our most recent fire in Bunyip on this year’s first day of autumn (1 March) are examples of significant fires outside of the traditional period for Victoria.

Some caused significant property losses, but thankfully no lives were lost. In total, we lost close to 50 properties, with a total of approximately 219,000 hectares of land burnt this season.

The night firebombing trial provided an opportunity to utilise Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS) technology on bushfires.

It played an important role in supporting ground crews, mitigating the potential impacts of fires outside containment lines, improving real time intelligence and adding to the effectiveness of back burn and other operations.

Whilst night firebombing using night vision goggles is undertaken overseas, the innovation in the Victorian trial was to enable hover filling of firebombing aircraft from open water sources including farm dams and the like, using night vison technology. In most other jurisdictions, that undertake night firebombing, aircraft are ground-filled.

Establishing the necessary approvals and safety procedures to allow hover filling from open water sources near the fire areas of operations adds significant advantages in aerial water bombing efficiency.

The ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach used as the trial has progressed has been an important underpinning to ensuring that safe systems of work are able to be sustained.

It is also why Emergency Management Victoria, Kestrel Aviation (Australia) and Coulson Aviation (Canada) were recognised with the award for Aerial Firefighting Innovation and Advancement at the Aerial Firefighting Awards 2019 in Nîmes in March for their ground-breaking, collaborative work in developing safe and effective practices for aerial firefighting at night using helicopters equipped with night vision goggles.

Whilst the focus in 2017/18 was on establishing the regulatory approvals necessary to enable night firebombing operations to be undertaken, the focus in the 2018/19 fire season shifted to operational deployment with the objectives of testing systems of work, undertaking operations in a variety of vegetation, and terrain and urban edge settings, and better understanding the practicalities of integrating night aerial operations into existing incident management practices and arrangements.

Night operations also enable emergency services to take advantage of generally milder fire behaviour compared to during the day, including lower temperatures, higher humidity and lighter winds.

 The night fire suppression aerial capability was deployed to fires that were determined to be appropriate for capability development and to meet the objectives set out for the trial. In all cases following deployment to a fire, aircrews undertook reconnaissance flights of the fire area and areas the fire was likely to spread into to assess hazards. Based on this reconnaissance and the ground fire control objectives final operational planning was undertaken and go/no go checklists completed.

 Read more in the full article.