A model way to prepare a community for bushfire

Member News image Pomonal Fire Brigade Community Safety Coordinator Andrew Cross


Pomonal is a small township on the eastern side of the Grampians National Park.


Pomonal community members are no strangers to fire, having been impacted several times across many years,” Community Engagement Coordinator Jenny McGennisken said, “and Pomonal Fire Brigade is highly engaged with its community.”

On 13 February 2024, when a lightning strike started a fire in the Bellfield area, south of Halls Gap, many community members had already begun to enact their fire plans. This was in response to the information communicated by Pomonal brigade the day before.

As the VicEmergency warnings began being issued, residents were aware of the pending threat. They realised that the fire could easily impact them, as conditions changed throughout the day.

When the south-westerly wind change occurred, the incident control centre warned the community via Emergency Warnings, firstly to leave now, and then to shelter in place.

“The brigade worked hard that day to protect the school, fire shed and the buildings on the main road to ensure the infrastructure was here for the community afterwards,” Pomonal Fire Brigade Community Safety Coordinator Andrew Cross (pictured) said.

However, important preparatory work began in 2022, when Jenny helped Pomonal brigade develop a community engagement plan. Part of the planning process is identifying risks and key infrastructure and then pinpointing the local opportunities to engage the community. Pomonal brigade established itself as a community information source, to provide practical advice with the aim of increasing the community’s awareness of their fire risk.

The brigade’s community engagement plan includes regular attendance at the Pomonal Village monthly market, local newsletter contributions, information sessions, school visits and brigade property advice visits (PAVS). The brigade has worked hard to ensure the community can make good decisions when a fire comes.

A Community Fireguard group was set up in 2019 and the Pomonal Resilience Group worked in partnership with Pomonal brigade to advocate fire preparedness and planning for businesses and landowners. The Northern Grampians Shire council supplies green waste vouchers as part of this property preparation initiative and Ararat Rural City Council was heavily involved in providing support and recovery services after the February fire.

Although more than 40 homes were destroyed in February, it’s important to acknowledge that no lives were lost.

“The work that Pomonal brigade has done in community engagement contributed to this outcome. The community was alert to the risks, alert to the warnings and took action to protect themselves that day,” Jenny said.

After the fire, the brigade started two new initiatives that will form part of their community engagement plan in the future. With support from the Pomonal Progress Association, the brigade is working to erect new property signage across the community.

During the fire, responding brigades found it hard to find property numbers as the plastic posts had melted. Made of the same steel as a street sign, the new signs are designed to rust over time, making the white number more prominent – even in the dark.

“We are also encouraging owners to ensure gateways and property access are large enough to fit a fire truck. While we talk to property owners, we are giving them a flyer that shows how much room the fire truck needs,” Andrew explained.

Having a brigade community engagement plan is the best way to support fire preparedness and prevention activities in your community, to help ensure it is as prepared as Pomonal. It also means your brigade will meet its operational preparedness requirements under section 29 of the CFA Act. The Act requires each brigade to have a community engagement plan relevant to the local risk profile and community need.

CFA offers support and resources to brigades to help them develop a community engagement plan. Check out the 'Community Safety Coordinators' tab on the Community Engagement Content Portal and the training available on the CFA Learning Hub (Community Safety and Engagement section). Brigade administrative support officers and community engagement coordinators can also provide information and assistance.


Submitted by Jo Gellatly