Better protection in the face of fire

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan, Upper Beaconsfield captain Ian Pinney, 3rd Lieutenant Clinton Patzack and Emergency Services Minister Jacyln Symes were impressed with the new Compressed Air Foam system. Pictures: SUPPLIED

By Matthew Sims

The Upper Beaconsfield Fire Brigade team has welcomed news their ultralight vehicle would be one of the first across the state to receive a new foam fit out.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) has started the rollout of a new $3.19 million retrofit program, which includes 246 existing ultralight vehicles, plus $4.95 million for the purchase of 33 new ultralights with crew protection.

The ultralight retrofit included a Compressed Air Foam based external deluge system (CAFS) and radiant heat shield curtains to protect the firefighters inside, as well as internal cabin stowage for fire blankets and some plastic elements of the vehicle replaced with more durable materials such as steel or aluminium.

Upper Beaconsfield Fire Brigade captain Ian Pinney said their ultralight vehicle was one of the first in the program to receive the new foam fit out and would be an extra protection feature for the vehicle’s occupants.

“Hopefully we never have to use it, but it’s comforting to know it’s there,” he said.

“Ultralights have a light footprint so they are great to use in difficult to reach areas that trucks can’t.

“Our brigade is based in a high risk rural bushfire area and we’ve attended significant fires over the years so I can definitely see the benefit to further protecting our firefighters.”

All CFA crews were required to complete annual entrapment drills to ensure they remained familiar with the new crew protection system.

Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes met with members of the Upper Beaconsfield brigrade to see the technology in action and talk about its potential uses.

“The ultralight tankers make up an important part of our fleet, ensuring an agile response to grassfires and areas that are hard to reach when our heavier trucks can’t get there,” she said.

“Our firefighters put their lives on the line every day for the safety of Victorian communities.

“These upgrades mean we’re keeping them as safe as possible too.”

The CFA introduced crew protection systems, such as water spray deluge and radiant heat shield curtains in new tankers with a capacity of 1000 litres or more in 2006.

Between 2011 and 2013, the CFA also retrofitted the same crew protection systems to all existing pre-2006 tankers.

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said the new systems underwent laboratory, simulation and real fire exposure to ensure they met the occupant survival criteria.

“Retrofitting all our ultralights gives our members the best possible chance of survival in a burnover,” he said.

“The safety of our firefighters is our number one priority and we’re continuously looking for improved measures to do this.”

The ultralights retrofit program was expected to be complete across all ultralight vehicles by the end of the year, with the new ultralight tankers rolling out next year.