The company’s crews are registered as forest industry brigades (FIBs) in CFA. HVP Plantations has more than 230 trained firefighters and support staff across its seven brigades.
FIBs work alongside other CFA volunteers on the frontline carrying out fire prevention and suppression activities as well as delivering key safety messages and training. Prevention measures include fuel reduction burning and firebreaks. HVP also works closely with Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), farmers and landowners throughout the fire season.
The FIBs’ specialist skills, equipment and experience help them fight forest fires 24 hours a day. Many of the people who work for HVP are also volunteer firefighters at their local CFA brigade. The HVP FIBs were the first FIBs registered in Victoria in 1998-9 following the launch of new legislation.
CFA currently has 20 FIBs. Although FIBs are run by forest plantation companies they abide by CFA regulations. This allows CFA to access specialised skilled firefighters and equipment including two helicopters that are dispatched by HVP but are fully-integrated with the Aviation Services Unit. HVP also has a fleet of forest firefighting vehicles, lookout towers and access to many items of heavy plant needed for forestry operations.
Before each fire season employees undergo regular training sessions to complete a range of activities and test equipment, and their heath is assessed.
“Most fires start outside of HVP’s boundaries but we work closely with neighbouring landowners to support one another,” Ruth Ryan, HVP’s Corporate Fire Manager, said. “It’s critical to have a strong relationship with the multiple agencies involved as we are all here to protect the Victorian community.
“We have a vast number of skilled firefighters, some of whom have over 30 years’ experience in the industry,” Ruth added. “The 2020 fire season has been a big one. From 20 December 2019 we had people out fighting fires for a period of 54 days out of 55.
“We even called on the resources of our sister companies in Queensland and New Zealand to assist with the provision of skilled plantation firefighters to help us manage fatigue in the local crews."
Ruth said that in terms of damage to the plantations, this year still ranks behind the 2009 fire season, but is still the second most significant in Victoria with about 8,000 hectares impacted.
“Salvage harvest operations have already commenced in the plantations to maximise the recovery of timber before it starts to decay,” Ruth said. “The trees take around 30 years to grow and so a gap in the resource supply may not be truly felt until many years down the track.”