How group officers plan for risk: part 1

Over a series of five interviews, we talk to group officers across our regions to find out about their local risks and how they prepare for the summer.


Jo Ussing, Lowan Group, District 17

This summer will be Jo Ussing’s first as Lowan Group Officer in District 17, but she and her supportive team are more than ready.

“I was elected in July, so I’m on a very steep learning curve,” Jo said. “I’m lucky to have the support of four DGOs and I like to say I have four ultimate wingmen who’ve got my back.”

Jo is a volunteer with Nhill Fire Brigade and has been a member of CFA for more than 13 years. Nhill is one of the nine brigades in the Lowan Group.

“The Lowan Group looks after parts of the Big Desert, parts of the Little Desert and all the farmland in between,” Jo said.

Australia has had a drier and warmer-than-average winter, and forecasts for the summer point to a higher-than-average risk of bushfire in Victoria.

The Lowan Group is focusing its energy on preparing how they can best manage fires in national parks.

“It’s very likely that lightning strikes will cause fires in both the Big Desert and Little Desert, and that becomes management of where and when the fire will come out,” Jo said.

“We are very lucky that we have such a good working relationship with DELWP and we tackle these ones together.

“Last year we had no lightning fires in the Big Desert. That’s only the second time ever on record. So, statistically speaking, there may be something out there this year.

We are really struggling in this area with declining population.

“We will also have two 802 Air Tractors as resources that will be stationed at Nhill Aerodrome. They work on pre-determined dispatch, so when we get a call-out they do as well.

“They are often on scene faster than we are and can do a really quick knockdown of the fire.

“In terms of preparedness, we’ve been looking pretty hard at our response tables, how many brigades will be called out and which brigades will be called out.

“We are really struggling in this area with declining population. Farms are getting bigger; there are fewer people on farms, and that’s a big concern for us as a group.

“We know that we will struggle with numbers and getting people on a truck, especially after harvest when people take their school-aged kids for a holiday. We’ve had a look at that and how we can best respond over that time.

“Our big fires tend to be in the national parks so it’s a matter of us working with Forest Fire Management [FFM].

“Our concern is when those fires come out of the Big Desert, so we work alongside FFM and manage asset protection.

“Like many summers before we will also be managing header and crop fires. They are a huge concern for us and something we expect every season.”

Although there may be concerns on the firefront there aren’t any for Jo when it comes to the capability of Lowan Group members.

“I’m really happy to be a part of a team that works together for a common goal. I don’t know it all, but I have the ability to ask for help.”

Author: Nicole Russo