Small community embraces tech to stay safe this summer

Bemm Fire Brigade is leading the way when it comes to the latest in sprinkler technology, thanks to a $40,000 donation from Inner Wheel Australia.


The money was donated by German clubs of the international association after last year’s devastating bushfire season, with a proviso it be used to protect communities affected by bushfire.

Inner Wheel is one of the largest International women’s volunteer service organisations, with its aims being, to promote friendship, the ideals of personal service and to foster international understanding.

Inner Wheel Australia Council Member Kate Luxford said she was proud Inner Wheel Australia chose to fund the project from international donations.

“With many of our international clubs keen to help aid the bush fire recovery, donations came from across the world,” she said.

“A large donation came from members in Germany who earmarked their money for use by the volunteers in the more rural fire brigades that were affected by the devastating bush fire season that we had.

“After numerous phone calls around the districts, I spoke to Bemm Fire Brigade Captain Russell Pardew. After hearing about his wish to install a proven sprinkler system, I knew some of this donation would be spent well and greatly appreciated.

“I was proud when my submission to the Inner Wheel Australia Executive was accepted and they chose to fund the project for the “Sprinklers”.”

Captain Russell Pardew AFSM said the brigade wanted to make the most of the donation to help future-proof their station.

“I talked to Kate Luxford from Inner Wheel Australia about what we could do with the donation, to make it meaningful. I felt it was important that we invested that donation wisely and stretched it as far as we could,” he said.

“I came up with an idea a while ago to have a sprinkler system installed for our fire station.

“After getting quotes I realised the donation would actually cover more than one system. There are a couple of smaller brigades in District 11 that we thought could use some help.

“Just one small community that has been belted by fire over the last 10 years is Goongerah. We also thought we could help out Wairewa, a small rural community between Orbost and Lakes Entrance.”

The sprinkler system is state-of-the-art and tailored for each location. It runs for two hours and is a reticulation system meaning half the water used runs back into the tank.

In Bemm, they will be able to activate it remotely through mobile phone.

Where there is less mobile coverage, such as at Goongerah, there is a heat sensor that can sense when the sprinkler needs to be turned on to protect the building.

For the more remote brigades a diesel pump will power the sprinklers. For Bemm, they have an electric power generator to come on if the power cuts out.

Captain Pardew said this was important in any small town where the fire brigade often becomes the de-facto emergency point where people gathered, particularly with tourists around.

“Someone said it’s an insurance policy for a CFA property, and I think that’s a good description,” he said.

Bemm township during last season's East Gippsland fires.

Captain Pardew said smaller communities had to find innovative ways to be more resilient themselves, as outside help was not always readily available.

Bemm has a permanent population of around 65, rising to 400 to 600 people in the peak tourism seasons of Easter and Christmas. It has one road in and one road out and was completely cut off for about a month during last fire season.

“You have to think outside the square. Bemm was the first brigade to use slip-on units.

“We’re keeping that up by being the first to create our own 100 metre firebreak. We also have created our own helipad.

“Every community is totally different and has different needs. Each needs to be looked at differently. There should be a community needs analysis or similar done for every town at risk.

“Communities should decide what best suits their needs. It’s a lot of work and effort to maintain and keep up interest in a local fire brigade. I’d encourage communities to support their local brigades.

 “Our local relationships with councils, DELWP and other agencies is also critical to this mission.

“We can then work together to keep up the persistence and momentum to make our communities as resilient as possible going forwards.”

CFA has supported the sprinkler project with an additional $11,000.

Author: CFA Media