Just after 8.30am on Sunday 11th November brigades from Westernport Group, Peninsula Group and units from the DSE started rolling into the Staging Area, setup and manned by the team from Mt. Martha Fire Brigade, at Tyabb Recreation Reserve to undertake joint training in
preparation for this coming season.
The day organised by Westernport Deputy Group Officer Mike Willmott, Balnarring 1st Lieutenant Graeme Briggs and Tyabb Captain John Morris, this year featured a fixed wing fire bomber (Fire Bomber 355) and Air Attack Supervising aircraft (Birddog 366) to demonstrate to crews the flexibility and adaptability of aircraft in the field.
Due to the great turnout of vehicles and personnel, four Strike Teams were formed with each Strike Team having a D.S.E Slip-on attached and a D.S.E Tanker forming part of another Strike Team. Even before the S.M.E.A.C.S briefing both C.F.A and D.S.E crews began mingling and discussing various aspects of the different trucks. This also allowed some C.F.A members to crew the D.S.E Slip-ons for the day.
The Incident Controller undertook a S.M.E.A.C.S briefing in brilliant sunlight as the population of Tyabb start to stir to the movement of people and vehicles. The day had been divided to four exercises
(Sectors) to give the crews a variety of challenges. With the briefing complete, Westernport Mobile Communications Van, which was setup across the road at Tyabb Fire Station, took on the mantle of Westernport Ops and started dispatching Strike Teams to their designated sectors.
As the vehicles moved from sealed to dirt roads the first challenge that became apparent to both the Strike Team Leaders and all drivers was the dust, not having had rain for several days a lot of dust caused
visibility issues for not only our vehicles but the general public which
required all our drivers to ensure adequate vehicle spacing and braking
distance, a skill that will definitely be valuable out on deployment.
Having negotiated some narrow and tricky roads the first Strike Team found itself on the lush front lawn of the Yaringa Estate overlooking a beautiful clear dam. Sector Commander, D.S.E fire-fighter Brendan
McKay didn’t leave them long to admire the view and set them the task of filling the pre-positioned collar tank for air operations use. This required some draughting and relay pumping as the collar tank had not been placed in the most advantageous positions.
Yaringa Estate had already become a hive of activity as two more Strike Team entered the large property to negotiate some out of control grass fires and spotting issues from fires close by. Sector Commander,
Hastings fire-fighter Alex Satragno lead a Strike Team to a paddock at the rear of the property to discuss grass fire tactics and strategies and observe a split load drop from Fire Bomber 355, this gave the Strike Team Leaders a valuable opportunity to co-ordinate directly with Birddog 366 and the crews got to watch the results of the Strike Team Leaders efforts and discuss the effectiveness of the two runs from the Fire Bomber.
Just to the East, Sector Commander, Tyabb Captain John Morris was working crews hard laying Class A Foam lines while ensuring crews
were not in the flight path of Fire Bomber 355. This kept the Strike Team Leaders on their toes communicating with their crews and Birddog 366 about the timing of the runs and allowed the crews to become more familiar with the foam generating systems.
The area around Somerville and the Yaringa Estate was chosen this
year as it is in close proximity to the Yanringa Caravan Park and Harbour, and allowed Sector Commander, Deputy Group Officer Nev Jones to have crews assess the impact of a fire front and spotting on the area and report this back to the Sector Commander. After a quick briefing crews dispersed through the area to gather intelligence for any possible community warnings. On return crews had the opportunity to discuss protection of life, issuing of community information and community warnings, protection of critical infrastructure and community assets, protection of residential property, protection
of assets supporting individual livelihoods and businesses and protection of environmental and conservation values. D.G.O Jones then put the crews safety and survival skills to the test with some burn-over drills.
With all this activity going on Tyabb C.F.A and D.S.E crews were
manning the Air Base at Tyabb Airfield supporting the air operations which had to be suspended for a short while as a private plane utilising the airfield didn’t quite make the runway and went tail up. Having Tyabb on scene at the airfield, which is part of their primary response area saw the scene secured and the aircraft removed with more damage to the pilot’s ego than the plane.
After lunch at Tyabb Fire Station and a chance to unwind from the
mornings training, crews were again dispatched to complete the rotation of exercises before returning for a debrief, well that was the plan. As crews were waiting at the Staging Area for all to return a column of smoke appeared in the distance that seemed to be more than your average burn-off and not long after local brigade pagers started sounding with “Burn-off out of control” and then the radio crackled with “Grass & Scrub fire Not Yet Under Control, make Tankers five.” As some vehicles rolled out of the staging area and some vehicles diverted from returning to the staging area a quick de-brief was held with the remaining C.F.A and D.S.E crews before brigades were released.
Westernport Group is grateful for the assistance of the many people who made the day a success:-
D.G.O Mike Willmott and Lt. Graeme Briggs;
Sector Commanders, Alex Satragno, John Morris, Nev Jones and
Staging Area set-up and management provide by Mt. Martha Fire
Air Attack Supervisor Mike Carr (D.S.E) and the pilots of Fire
Bomber 355 and Birddog 366;
Tyabb Fire Brigade for opening their doors and providing fire
cover for the air base;
Grant Santvoort, Di Mainwaring, Julie De La Haye and Rob Kupsch
for running the M.C.V, ensuring the day stayed to time and putting up with all those people putting in their 10 cents worth.