This article is a guide to using private farm fire fighting units at fires in Australia. In 2001 a firefighter was killed in Victoria as a result of a farmer using a tractor and plough at a fire. This should have never happened and as a result, changed the way private firefighting equipment operate at the fire in Victoria Australia.
This article is a partial guide and there are many other factors that determine how firefighters and private equipment can work together safely.
Private firefighters and machine operators need to understand all the principles and apply to them at the fire scene. We are going to discuss these principles in-depth in these sections.
Safety on the fire ground
The plan to engage in firefighting should be made before a fire outbreak. All necessary preparation must be made before deployment. It is usual for private firefighters to get at the site before the local brigade. Fire services appreciate these; the fire might even have been put under control. But the primary priority of firefighters is the safety on-site, therefore:
- Do not work alone.
- Take responsibility for your own.
- Be aware of the situation around you.
- Put on all safety gear, especially when handling special machines.
- Work under your limits and ability.
- Make sure your equipment is well maintained.
- Ensure the work you undertake is equal to your knowledge and that of your machine.
Directions for using Private Equipment at Fires
- Be physically and mentally ready
- You must be aware of the risks involved.
- You must have enough knowledge and skills.
- Dress proper protective cloths.
- Be prepared to accept the outcome of your actions.
- Ensure the car is not overloaded.
- Make sure fittings and loads are secured
- Make sure the equipment is mechanically reliable and sound.
- Have all the recommended Safety communications and equipment.
When you choose to participate in firefighting as an individual, you accept the outcome of your actions. Every person has a shared responsibility for all persons on the fire ground. When difficult situations arise, it is wise to make your actions and decisions known and in consultation with others.
Be known that you are present
If you are working for an agency, make sure they know of your present, you must also co-operate and understand where your team members are if you arrive before the brigade, team protocols and procedures must be followed. Well defined tasks may save the day.
But, when the fire department is present, they are responsible for the safety of all persons at the site. And will take control of all major decisions and advice on what should be done. This is their legislated responsibility and those private owners who don’t cooperate may be handed to the Police for further legal actions.
Firefighting success depends on all persons working together. When the fire grows in complexity, personnel and equipment will also increase. While more formal structures are put in place for proper management of emergencies. Commitment and cooperation make the day.
Through working with others, at times, you will have to make personal decisions and take action, but always know you will have to take responsibility for such actions. Remember, you are not above the law, and safety must always come first.
Working with others.
By firefighters and private owners working together, the work will be more comfortable and safer. You can help one another to avoid or overcome:
- Falling objects, hot surfaces flames, sharp items, mines, and mine shaft
- High noise levels for long periods.
- Poor vision caused by smoke.
- Communication will also be easier
Assess the risk and avoid hazards
Being aware and locating hazards is the first goal. Its a dynamic situation and ongoing assessment of risk is required. Use your experience, knowledge, and common sense to make a choice. The hazards could include:
- Live power line
- Using machines in a rough environment or thick vegetation
- The radiant heat of high levels
- Heat-related issues such as dehydration.
- If the assessment shows the effects will be extreme, consider moving to safer areas.
Wearing protective equipment.
It is essential that all persons, including individual equipment operators, be well equipped and clothed for fires. Fire clothes should cover all the parts of the body to prevent the entry of heat and embers, while at the same time providing enough ventilation for breathing and cooling. Only when in a safe environment should you unbutton or remove but of the clothing for more cooling.
- Wear the following when at fire scene:
- Natural or cotton fibre overalls with long sleeves
- Stiff leather boots, the best is a lace-up type
- Leatherworking groves for rough environments
- Company helmets fitted with chin strap
- Industrial king goggles.
- Hearing protector and dust masks may be needed in some operations
- Reflecting clothing may be necessary, especially for heavy machine operators.
Understand your limits
Firefighting can be difficult, both mentally and physically. It needs a sound mind with a high level of fitness to handle the physical stress in an ever-changing and hostile environment. It can bring about high mental pressure with the need for fast decision making. Therefore, be sure to work within your limits; this is determined by your training and experience.
No equipment operator is above the law or exempt from it. When working in the firefighting industry, compliance with all laws, including traffic laws, is paramount. Secondly, if you will have to use any equipment at sight, you should make sure:
- Your safety and that of any person’s presence is protected.
- The machine is capable and suitable for the task in a hostile environment.
- The equipment is reliable
Vehicles for wet fire fighting
Vehicles should not be overloaded, as this is a big security issue. An overloaded vehicle will be harder to steer, less braking ability, and unstable.
This vehicle should also:
- Have proper communication devices –The vehicle should have a good quality UHF band radio or other suitable communication devices
- Have a first aid kit and also an excellent woollen blanket for personal protection.
- It should be registered and roadworthy to operate on public roads.
- The vehicle must have a pump, and both the car and the pump should be in excellent mechanical condition.
The criteria for vehicles for wet fighting applies here too, the safety of the driver must also be considered. They should also work on their limits when fighting a direct running fire. Operating very close to other larger firefighting vehicles is unacceptable.
Movement is highly discouraged when operating and should only be done when the driver is in a fully enclosed cabin. Tasks should be well considered because of its reduced stability, mobility, and maneuverability. No persons should ride on trailer units.
Farm machinery and implements/ Heavy plant and equipment
These machines always engage in dry firefighting tactics such as slashing ripping, ploughing, harrowing, grading, etc. The normal rules for use of private equipment also apply here, but in places where a private individual is operating the heavy plant, the local authorities must be notified.
The functions of private equipment operators may change according to the equipment needed, the physical effort required, the risk involved, and hazards present, but primarily they include:
- The first attack on the fire.
- Support – giving support for parallel and direct attacks
- Patrolling and blacking out operations.
A communication system is essential in making sure information about new instructions and strategies is easily transferred. Communication methods must be able to pass information to the right persons, and according to the language they understand. You should ask your local brigade for the type, capabilities, and condition of communication devices you need according to their experience. Make sure to know the protocols of communication applying in your area.
Traffic management points (TMP) and Private equipment’s access are always established at the fire scenes to control traffic on the roads and the scene. These management points are essential risk control tools to be used when fighting the fire.
Equipment Control Point Access.
If you bring private firefighting equipment then, in Victoria Australia, a sticker is to be issued to eligible vehicles. Which meet the standards discussed above and those of your locality. Make sure to apply for the label before the fire season.
The private units will often be a ‘slip-on’ unit. Where applicable ‘slip-on’ units must comply with the Equipment Guidelines and Specifications. Consult your local brigade for further information.
The main objective of private equipment operation on the fire ground is always the safety and the protection of life and property. Most of the information is common sense but if not followed can have catastrophic consequences. So if you have equipment that may be used in the fire season to support your neighbours please ensure you talk to your local brigade before during and after a fire.