Incident name: Back Germantown Rd Non-Structure
Brigades: Bright, Porepunkah
There’s something about the screech of a pager going off.
That insistent call to action; the world it plunges you into as you drop what ever it is you are doing and head to the fire station.
The questions it triggers to begin flying around your head; is it bushfire, structural, vehicle, Hazmat? (That’s before the whole SIZEUP and SPADRA questions begin). And as is the case for us with an urban-rural interface, will one become the other.
This day, the pager message read:
“Harvester Fire … Near the tree felling sign …
So we knew it was an HVP (Hancocks Victoria Pines) operation, a tree harvester in the middle of a pine plantation, on a hill, rather than a farm.
Although it was an autumn day, we’d had plenty of rain and the landscape is unusually green and lush, more than one of the crew paused in front of their gear hanging on the pegs in the station.
The question; “Will we end up fighting a bushfire as well as a vehicle fire, and thus which helmet should be taken – structural or wildfire?”
If it were summer and the forest dry, the fire would inevitably spread.
A full crew on the Bright tanker headed out, meeting one of the HVP operators at an intersection who guided us the rest of the way. Rounding a corner the sight of the harvester came into view, the cabin and engine fully involved, and fire underneath between the caterpillar tracks.
Two lines were run out and the attack began. Luckily, access was easy as the harvester was still felling right near the main road. That said the pile of stacked timber and stripped branches made moving around the scene with loaded hoses somewhat challenging, offering snags for the lines, and obstacles to climb over. There was initial relief when it was apparent the fire was not going to spread and the work could be concentrated entirely on the machine.
It didn’t take long before the bright orange flames subsided, and were replaced by incessant smoke pouring from the engine, indicating the seat of the fire was still hot and smoldering. Numerous approaches were tried in an attempt to get water onto it. During which time our water supply dropped. This prompted the Captain to request Porepunkah Tanker.
Unable to get water adequately in to the engine bay, the second, unburnt harvester was called in, and with a heavy chain was able to pull the cover free.
Speaking to the harvesters’ operator, I realised he’d had a lucky escape. He said he’d become aware of flames behind him, and tried to get the fire extinguisher, but the fire was already too intense. He jumped clear. As he ran up the road to his workmate, knowing he also had an extinguisher on board, he heard the batteries explode, and he realised there was little he could do except call us.