A visit to Cambodia in 2006 by Australian firefighters proved to be the catalyst for the formation of a relief fund to specifically address firefighting resources and training. Noticeably visible was a lack of standardised training, incompatibility of equipment and vehicles, insufficient quantities and inappropriate personal protective clothing, negative community perception of the fire department, no standard operating procedures, perceived corruption of fire service members and minimal maintenance of equipment and many unserviceable vehicles and equipment.
Australian Firefighters International Relief and Education (AFIRE) was established later that year by Australian firefighters who were prepared to donate their time and expertise to assist fire services in Cambodia and other developing countries.
AFIRE’s credo, is to provide a holistic approach to fire service development in order to create a self sustainable emergency service capable of providing safe and effective emergency response in all emergency incidents and to ensure accountability at all times. They achieve this by working closely with the relevant authorities and conducting a comprehensive, skills, knowledge and infrastructure gap analysis when planning any projects training or improvements. Their assistance is provided beyond the borders of services, departments, states, countries, cultures and religions.
Assistance in the training firefighters, community education, infrastructure development, operating procedures, policies and legislation has seen AFIRE acknowledged worldwide as professional and unique in their holistic approach to fire service development in developing countries.
Paul Hurford, a Fire Officer with CFA, together with Leading Firefighter Jamie Hansen and Dave Miller, a Commander with Metropolitan Fire Brigade of Melbourne form the core of the AFIRE Operational Management Team. This team draws upon their combined experience of more than 50 years service to coordinate all overseas projects and guide the development of AFIRE.
AFIRE have now been working with the Cambodian Fire Department for the past three years. The department consists of 480 firefighters who are employed by the police force and as such are in fact police officers performing the role of firefighters. Prior to AFIRE’s involvement, the Cambodian firefighters received little, if any, fire rescue training.
Through the good intentions of many different countries and organisations there has been a reasonable quantity of firefighting equipment and vehicles donated to Cambodia, however to date none of this aid has been coordinated. With support from the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA), Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), the State Emergency Service Victoria, Victoria Police, and the tireless efforts of the membership, AFIRE have trained over 350 firefighters, issued Personal Protective Clothing to 350 firefighters, started the standardisation of hose, couplings and vehicle typology, designed a new Cambodian Fire Department badge, introduced a community education package and had significant input into Standard Operating Procedures.
As part of developing the Cambodian Fire Service, AFIRE has also been training the firefighters of the internationally operated Airport Fire Service and has successfully fostered an integrated relationship between the two services.
AFIRE have recently begun work in East Timor (Timor Leste). Following the good work in Cambodia, AFIRE was engaged by the United Nations to conduct a ‘scoping mission’ of the Timor Leste National Fire Service and to assess its capacity to provide a safe and effective emergency response to the community. East Timor offers similar challenges to Cambodia and AFIRE is confident it can achieve the same successes in East Timor as it has in Cambodia.
To date, the vast majority of instructors have been from CFA and MFB in Victoria, however over recent months AFIRE has been looking to involve emergency service staff from other Australian States and Territories. AFIRE now has people from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania who have expressed an interest in becoming involved in the unique challenge of working in developing countries and using their skills and knowledge to assist those less fortunate. All AFIRE members and instructors volunteer their time and are self funded.
Air Services Australia have also indicated that they are interested in providing support to AFIRE’s endeavours in developing countries. There will be a role for suitably qualified Aviation Firefighters to assist in the training of the Cambodian and East Timor Airport Fire Services.
AFIRE has also formed a positive relationship with AFAC and are currently discussing ways in which Australian fire services can assist AFIRE without neglecting their commitments to the Pacific Island Fire Service Association.
Working relationships are also being established with Commonwealth and Victorian Governments, AusAID, United Nations and various ‘Friends of’ groups which will make the next 12 months quite favourable for AFIRE and its long term goals.
2010 is set to be an exciting year with a rapid expansion of overseas involvement and opportunities for Australian firefighters to travel and instruct. There will also be many opportunities for members to become involved in fundraising events and campaigns. AFIRE encourages involvement and support at all levels. What may seem like a small effort can often be the link to the bigger picture. To all of the members who have participated so far, we sincerely thank you and look forward to your future involvement.
For more information on how you can become involved in this exciting and rewarding opportunity, visit the AFIRE website at www.afire.org.au. You can show your support by signing up online as an AFIRE member. AFIRE is a not for profit organisation.