As a long-time volunteer, driver educator, wildfire instructor, operational firefighter and pilot, health and safety is of a principal concern to me. We often concentrate on the common hazards such as falling tree branches and fire behaviour but often overlook where we put our feet or drive heavy firefighting vehicles.
Even with risk assessments prior and during operations, odd events beneath our feet can take us by surprise. Concealed or obvious holes on the fireground can be a huge risk, especially at night.
I’m reminded of a time when I was a CFA volunteer firefighter blacking out in bushland near old gold workings at Maryborough. A fellow volunteer working near me was saved from certain death by desperately clinging onto the fire hose he was using. He had stepped onto a poorly-capped deep shaft that had finally given way after 100 years.
And the risks are still there. At 6.23pm on Tuesday 9 October, Maldon and Newstead & District fire brigades responded to the report of a driver possibly trapped in a vehicle in bushland at the base of Mt Tarrengower near Maldon (pictured).
The exact location of the incident initially proved difficult to locate for local volunteers and following responding crews. The driver had ventured off the formed tracks to explore an area of cleared ground and old gold diggings - and into the mouth of an old mine shaft.
Inside the vehicle were a 29-year-old woman from Maldon and her dog. She was lucky to get out as the angle of the vehicle meant the upper and rear doors of the van were too heavy to open.
Using an axe, she smashed the front windscreen to free both herself and her furry companion from the four-wheel drive. Both occupants were uninjured, although understandably startled.
Driving into the area of the accident, I was concerned that our own heavy tanker and its crew could suffer the same fate. To avoid disaster, I stayed on the established tracks and we walked safely to the job.
To not drive directly into the job might sound like a tad overreaction but, in my experience, erring on the side of caution frequently works.