Grape escape in Seppelt exercise

The grapes of wrath were let loose at Seppelt Winery in Great Western in early October with a major breathing apparatus (BA) exercise involving volunteers from across District 16.

The old bottling hall and barrel warehouse; the rotary fermenter tank farm gantry; and the warehouse escape tunnel and coolroom at the Seppelt site in Great Western presented a challenging obstacle course for the members.

A total of 28 members attended from Great Western, Ararat, Stawell, Beaufort, Willaura and Snake Valley brigades with support from two Ballarat City fireys in their protective equipment van.

The scenario was a major explosion resulting in fire and damage throughout the site with many people unaccounted for.

Crews began rotating through three sectors in the early evening light, but finished in the dark under the lunar eclipse’s blood moon.

“All breathing apparatus brigades in District 16 were invited,” said Ararat member and PAD operator Dale Pagram. He was instrumental in making the first such exercise happen two years ago when Ararat and Stawell both had a relatively new group of officers and St Arnaud Group had just come across to the district through boundary realignment.

“We’ve got two urban brigades – Stawell and Ararat – surrounded by rural brigades,” continued Dale, “so this was about skills maintenance and we needed to keep it unpredictable.”

“It’s also a meet and greet,” said organiser and Ararat Lieutenant Pete Hannan. “It’s really about breaking down the barriers and giving the smaller brigades with BA that impetus to enhance their skills.”

While the two indoor scenarios were carried out in total darkness, Peter oversaw crews searching for casualties on the outdoor gantry, a complex scaffold of various levels some 25 metres tall.

Some really useful mistakes were made by the crews in the search and rescue and an exercise is the ideal time to iron them out.

“One of my bugbears is people moving too far away from their partner during a search,” continued Peter. “If you’re more than a few feet away in a real life incident, you’re out of contact with your partner. You’re likely to not be able to hear each other and could easily become separated. It’s vital to stay only a step away.

“The scenarios ran well within themselves but command communications were an issue. We didn’t have enough portable radios to go around. We had about four teams going through each scenario at a time and tried to give each team a radio to use as they would have in an incident.

 “Crews were using the radios quite well within each scenario but they were let down on the command side. We had UHF portable radios but they weren’t loud enough. BA control was letting people know where they were up to with air – that ran well.

 “The other thing to impress on people is that they must search the whole area. On the night we had some areas not searched well while other areas were gone over more than once. While it would be unusual to have that many people in a group of searchers, you really need one team within that larger group to step up and place themselves in charge and co-ordinate the search.”

Dale oversaw crews searching in the escape tunnel used to evacuate workers from the large warehouse.

An important part of this task was to communicate effectively with those following: pass on what you have found so others don’t have to discover it anew. How long is the tunnel, does it turn to the left or right, are there stairs; does the ceiling dip.

“They did really well,” said Dale. “What I heard from newer members was that they thought the night was well planned. The commitment from everyone there was phenomenal. Thanks to Peter Hannan, Seppelt, the caterers and all the members for turning up.”

Certainly Seppelt was happy to host. On site was Mark Kindred who is both Seppelt site manager and the first lieutenant at Great Western Fire Brigade.

“We’ve had ammonia leaks here,” said Mark, “so the added benefit to this exercise is site familiarisation and identification of hazards for brigades that would attend any incident that occurred at Seppelt. District 16 staff have also done familiarisation trips out here so they can better understand the risks in their patch.”

Peter described himself as “a happy organiser” at the close of the night.

“The district training committee was behind us and they’d like to see this happening every year,” he said. “The next exercise might be a hazmat and we might also be able to access the Aradale Mental Hospital site which has been closed for about 15 years.

“The idea is to move it to a round robin so we can learn about community threats and assets in different areas.”

The incident controller for the night was Captain Dustin Barry of Great Western while Stawell Lieutenant Guy Holden oversaw the third scenario. Catering was done by three members of the District 16 catering team with 12 exercise coordinators also on site.


Author: Leith Hillard