Rushworth trains actively each week throughout the year, and recent training sessions have honed member response to fires on undulating grasslands and in scrubby forested terrain that surround the historic
northern Victorian town.
This week, the Brigade tested the current “burnability” of typical local grasslands, and accepted an invitation from a former CFA member to use a vacant paddock on his property to carry out its activities.
Under a light wind an hour before last light, the exercise began with brigade members deploying burners along a “fire-front” of several hundred metres. Contrary to expectations, the “green” paddock grass burned easily, the fire front even moving slowly against the prevailing breeze, generating thick white smoke that soon pervaded the fireground.
Close examination of the burned areas revealed that the upper green “visible” grass layer was largely unscathed by the flame passage; however, the dried under-layer burned quite strongly, propelling the fire-front inexorably across the paddock. Only the intervention of Rushworth tanker crews prevented its ultimate escape onto neighboring properties.
The exercise also provided the Brigade with an opportunity to test simultaneous operation of its two tankers, and to refresh crew familiarity with their “rural” capabilities and safety systems.
Rushworth’s main tanker and its new Canter Ultralight vehicle are both fitted with comprehensive crew protection systems, and Brigade
Captain Graeme Wall is determined to ensure that all RFB members are fully conversant with their activation and use.
“Threats to personal safety should always be avoided if possible”, Graeme told his firefighters, “but if the unexpected happens and you get caught, a practiced response executed without delay can literally mean the difference between life and death. Over the coming weeks, we will practice and practice and practice again until your recognition of – and response to – a range of safety threats becomes completely instinctive.”
The two hour practical fire-fighting session was followed by a relaxed debrief back at the fire station. Errors were discussed, suggestions offered and options explored to maximize the value of the evenings’ activities; everyone agreed that the session had been both enjoyable and worthwhile.
Weather permitting, the Brigade will actively train using simulated grassfire attacks over the coming weeks, until the formal onset of regional fire restrictions around late November or early December.
With such heavy fuel loads on grasslands and scrubby areas around Rushworth, no-one doubts that the dedicated training effort will have been worthwhile.