Following record heatwaves, the horrific bushfires in Australia continue to rage out of control. Take a look at how firefighters are surviving these toughest of conditions as they battle to save lives
New South Wales is burning
Extended periods of record-breaking temperatures and drought have led to extensive bushfires. These are affecting eastern Australia, and most severely the state of New South Wales.
As of a few hours ago, over 4 million hectares have been burned. That is equivalent to just under 10 acres and has taken with it over 900 homes. So far 12 people have tragically lost their lives, including three volunteer firefighters.
Statistics like this are heartbreaking. Whilst the extraordinary bravery of firefighters has never been in doubt, it brings to the fore the risks they take every day.
In comparison, one of the fires considered to be the worst ever experienced was the Black Saturday bushfires. This series of fires were burning on 7th February 2009 across the state of Victoria.
There were 400 individual fires, and 173 people lost their lives with many more left dealing with devastation and homelessness.
Protecting the front line
The team taking the video were protecting properties. They found themselves trapped in the path of the flames, and sheltered in their vehicle.
I have to admit to watching this from behind my hands, and it begs the question – how safe were they really?
The crew from Fire and Rescue NSW Station 509 Wyoming recorded this video showing the moment their truck was overrun by the bushfire burning South of Nowra. The crew was forced to shelter in their truck as the fire front passed through. #NSWFires #ProtectTheIrreplaceable pic.twitter.com/Hb0yVrefi9
— Fire and Rescue NSW (@FRNSW) December 31, 2019
Firefighting vehicles are designed to stand up to much harsher conditions than civilian modes of transport. However, do authorities need to invest more in specialist vehicles to respond to this kind of disaster?
One user comments, ‘All @FRNSW and @NSWRFS trucks need to be fitted with self protection sprays that can be operated from inside cabin. Also most trucks are not fitted with burnover curtains. In my local @NSWRFS brigade only 1 of 3 trucks has reflective burn over curtains. None have roll cages.’
Another echoes my own thoughts ‘“Jasper, put the blanket up.” Gutwrenching words, a mere blanket against *that?* It feels like we are asking way too much of these human beings. The psychological cost is incalculable.’
In a further blast against Scott Morrison, Australian PM, a commenter says ‘I’d just like to let the world know and anybody else who reads this that right now the Prime Minister of Australia is hosting a New Year’s eve party at his harbour side mansion.’
This follows a storm of criticism against the PM who took a holiday to Hawaii earlier this month despite the crisis facing his citizens. A large proportion of firefighters in Australia are volunteers.
So how are firefighting vehicles equipped to keep their users safe?
UK emergency vehicle supplier Emergency One has introduced telematics into fire trucks. This helps the central command to deploy and allocate resources more efficiently.
They also provide feedback about locations and status of vehicles to help responders get to where they are needed faster. Vehicles are equipped with e1Fleet computer consoles for better communication.
New Advanced Protection Systems (APS) act as roll-over protection to keep firefighters safe. The Spartan Chassis APS, as an example, contains eight airbags which are multiple times larger than those in other fire trucks. The APS uses sensors to continuously monitor for impact.
Another innovation is PTO-driven pumps. These are cost-effective, highly efficient and enable firefighters to operate the pump by pushing a button from inside the cab. This works whether the truck is moving or stationary.
I know that the technologies available are one thing, and a government having a budget available is another. However there are lots of resources and innovations out there to keep firefighters safer, and ultimately to benefit every person who finds themselves in need of emergency assistance.
I’m no safety expert, nor commenting on politics. But if firefighters are ever risking their lives to save mine, I’ll very much hope that have every technology available at their fingertips.