How group officers plan for risk: part 4

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.


Wangaratta Group officer John Barnard. Photo by Tess Barnard.

John Barnard, Wangaratta Group, District 23

“Signs are telling us that we’re going to be in for a hot, dry extended summer period,” said Wangaratta Group Officer John Barnard.

“At the moment we’ve got plenty of grass growth, and once that dries out we’ll have a significant grass fire risk across the group area. We also have some bush with the Walker Ranges, which is always a significant area in the summer time.

“Touch wood, we’ve been very lucky regarding major fires in our own group area, but over the past 18 years we’ve supported other areas a lot with major bushfires.

“We’re a very active supporting group, especially with the fires in 2003, 2006, 2007, Black Saturday and the fires near Wallan a couple of years ago.

“We’re best prepared as we can be. I’m confident that if we get the call to support somewhere in the state, we’ll be able to fulfil the commitment.”

Brigades in Wangaratta Group are also preparing for common incidents they attend during the summer period.

“There’s a fair bit of lightning activity in the north-east which can result in a few fires. We ran a training session this year in the evening for something a bit different. We ran a scenario of a tree fire which was caused by a lightning strike.

“Brigades have also done their preparedness, including annual roadside burning and clean-up works, and undertaken the burnover drill and hazardous trees training packages.

“The group will be running a Minimum Skills weekend in early December, which will be the last opportunity for the brigades’ new recruits to do the training.

The group runs a roster with the group management team, so there’s always somebody on duty during summer who can respond with an FCV when there’s a job.

“As part of our roster we run a group duty officer who assumes the operational side of things of the group as well, and we have a team ready to go in the local command facility when required,” said John.

Group officer Bob Bassett (left) with his son Geof. Photo by Louise Haughton


Bob Bassett, Tambo Group, District 11

It was a very early start to the season for the Tambo Group. In September, a large bushfire near Buchan tore through areas across Gippsland because of unseasonably warm, dry weather and high winds.

“We had a baptism of fires at the end of September,” said Tambo Group Officer Bob Bassett, pictured with his son Geof. “The weather conditions caught everyone by surprise.

“We had about 12 fires start in one day. Firefighters reacted quite quickly to this one and caught it before it could escalate to a level three.

“The early start to the season didn’t surprise me, but the intensity of these fires did. It has definitely been the driest season I’ve experienced in the past 40 years.

“Each year we make sure we review our jobs look at what we did well, review our strike teams and make sure we have the right crews and vehicles. We tune that up throughout the year.

“We also look at incidents like the California fires and incidents in the fire-prone states we have here in Australia. We use them as a benchmark and look at the possibilities of similar bushfires happening here and we gear ourselves up and prepare.

“We have the township of Lakes Entrance to care for, as well as the coastal town of Metung and we hope our community is prepared - we put notices up all the time.

“The community is fairly used to our seasons here, so when we’re getting active they prepare too.

“Like one of the catchment officers down here says, ‘expect the unexpected’. There’s no telling what we might be in for.”

Author: Nicole Russo