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“I grew up two doors down from the local brigade captain – plug for the Wells family – and that’s how I got involved with CFA,” says Dave.
“I’ve paid a lot of attention over the years to development within the Wyndham area. Because of brigade preparedness, pre-planning and training initiatives, we inspect a lot of the larger facilities on a regular basis. We cycle through our key checks of the protected premises to ensure proper access and ensure we’re familiar with site layout and hazards. We tend to be inquisitive on station. In incident management, information is power. It allows us to manage situations in a calm and methodical manner.”
The population of the City of Wyndham - split between CFA and MFB - is 184,000 with a 35 per cent increase expected over the next 10 years. The brigade’s main risks are structural. They have a large number of alarm-monitored sites and a high incidence of house fires started because of drug cultivation activities or equipment. The national rail line and the Princes Highway cut through the township with dangerous goods travelling to and from Corio and port of Melbourne.
“Local knowledge is knowing what the risks are so you can make informed decisions, call in the right resources and bring the incident to a safe and successful conclusion,” says Dave. “The risk of an incident involving chemicals is relatively high, especially as the population increases and congestion on the road and rail network gets worse. That all makes it really important to get out in the community and build relationships with industry groups and companies. We’ll be prepared to handle any situation.
“We have the Melbourne water pumping station in our support area. It’s a 12-storey structure with eight stories underground. It’s high risk for biological contamination, possible chemical contact and toxic gases on site.
“It’s not often I have to pick up a Melways. Once we establish the area of an incident, I generally know the best travel routes for the time of day so we’re able to provide a fast and efficient service. Managing an incident is learning more about your community.
“Our partnerships with local government also give us local knowledge. They tell us about new road access or closures. We also have regular municipal fire prevention meetings and talk about high risk areas and formulate our base strategies for the fire danger period.”
The brigade also liaises with the district community safety team and supports them at street corner meetings, talking to members of the public about being fire ready.
“Fast moving grassfires are our greatest wildfire risk,” continues Dave. “Northerly winds are generally strong during summer due to the relatively flat terrain. The westerly wind change usually arrives late in the afternoon and it comes in fairly strong because it’s so flat and unprotected. The grassland in this area is littered with volcanic rocks which has an impact on our firefighting strategies and tactics. Strong consideration is given to indirect attack and the use of aircraft.”
In fact, Dave is also an air observer with CFA, flying above the fire to provide information to crews on the ground and back to the district.
“Some of the best people to learn local knowledge from are our volunteers - we have about 40 with 12 who turn out regularly,” continues Dave. “The key thing is building a network of people so you know who to turn to and who you can trust. It’s knowing who to task to complete certain roles. You can draw from their life experience and qualifications outside CFA. We’ve got volunteers who are paramedics and police and some who are involved in construction and industry. You can bounce ideas off these members to increase your knowledge base for each situation so everyone goes home safely.
“CFA is about engaging. Our whole job relies on interaction with the community and our members. That’s how we learn.”