Turning tanks into treasure

District 17 has found an excellent use for some older water tanks that were due for disposal.


Instead of discarding them, brigades teamed up with the District 17 Aviation Unit to repurpose the tanks. They have been moved to airports and used for loading water bombers during the fire season. 

There are now five airbases across District 17, with trained volunteers responsible for loading the bombers. The redundant tanks were transferred across the region, with two heading to nearby Warracknabeal, one to Rainbow and one to Edenhope. Horsham Airbase also received an additional tank thanks to the local council.

As well as this recycled tank project, a federal government bushfire mitigation grant of $54,000 paid for four new tanks at Nhill airbase, plus three quick-fill pumps and associated fittings.

By having these tanks dispersed across airports, District 17 has significantly increased capacity and reduced the cost to deliver water and foam to the fire front than would otherwise be possible, according to Aviation Unit Leader and District Support Coordinator John Robinson.

“We operate the bombers as close as possible to the fire front to deliver the maximum possible suppressant to the fire in the shortest amount of time,” John said.

“In the long run, the extra air bases and the redeployed tanks are expected to save thousands of dollars in reduced flight times, minimised property damage and potentially lives saved.”

A fire at Kenmare not long after the tanks were distributed highlighted just how effective it was to have the tanks at a number of sites (see table below).

But according to John, the advantages of the recycled water tanks aren’t only operational and financial. 

“The teamwork has been great between our unit and the local aviation people,” he said. 

“This process is engaging volunteers who have reached the point of stepping off trucks, but still want to make a positive contribution to community safety."

“They’ve been teaming up with local aero club members, the staff of an aviation maintenance business, and SES volunteers to provide this service.” 

In addition, the district converted a light pumper from the VEMTC Longerenong training facility into a mobile bomber loader, which means it can operate from any runway where there’s water. 

This resource recycling is a prime example of CFA’s focus on being an adaptive and agile organisation. 

But John said it is the experienced volunteers finding ways to help out, to innovate, and to stay involved that has been most beneficial. 

“It can get pretty hot out there [at the airbases] during summer. 

“We need enough volunteers at each air base to respond before the bombers arrive, and also to rotate crews during the day to look after their welfare. 

“It’s great that our volunteers want to keep helping out, and this has given them an avenue to do it."

Author: Tim McGlone