Page 60 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 14 February 2006

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recently we saw the tragic death of a CFA volunteer in Victoria and the serious injury of others of his volunteer team. These volunteers were out there protecting people’s lives and property, but in doing so one made the ultimate sacrifice.

The motivation of volunteers can differ greatly, and to be an emergency service volunteer takes a particular kind of motivation. It could be to protect the community or to protect the environment. Volunteers are attracted to this field because of the excellent training that volunteers receive and the extensive experience it offers. Volunteering not only helps the community; it provides great benefits to the volunteer. It can provide skills that can be transferred to paid employment. It provides a sense of comradeship and provides social networks.

The State Emergency Service has experienced an exponential increase in calls for assistance this financial year, already up tenfold on recent years. The Rural Fire Service volunteers within the last year have undertaken a larger than normal volunteer training program, with volunteers undertaking training in remote-area fire fighting and training in the operation of the new compressed-air foam tankers.

Another important group of volunteers within the emergency services family are the community fire units, known as CFUs, which were introduced following the January 2003 bushfires and are based on the successful model in operation in New South Wales. There are currently 28 CFUs operating in the ACT, with more than 450 active, fully trained volunteers and another 250 undergoing training. These units are located in the suburbs of Chapman, Aranda, Kambah, Hawker, O’Connor, Curtin, Campbell, Duffy, Cook, Hall, Bruce, Farrer, Fadden, Uriarra, Dunlop and Torrens. Collectively, CFUs cover a lineal distance of over 51 kilometres along the urban fringe.

Our CFU volunteers learn about bush care and bushfire behaviour, safe housekeeping and garden practices, and planning and preparation for bushfires. They help limit the effect on life, property and the community in times of bushfire and form strong links with the local fire station and with other CFUs. They provide extra resources during bushfires and help reduce the cost to the community of destructive bushfires. These volunteers are trained to safeguard their home during a bushfire and assist the fire service to limit property damage and loss. The ACT Fire Brigade provides 20 hours of formal training, both in theory and practical, followed by formal refresher training twice a year to maintain the currency of skills.

In fact, I joined the Hawker and Dunlop group undertaking their training in the application of new compressed-air foam delivered through the CAFS tankers. Steve Gibbs, district officer, community risk management, supervised this training. Officer Gibbs was one of the driving forces behind the implementation of the CFUs and was the man with whom I worked while the CEO of Volunteering ACT to establish the training program for those of the fire officers who now manage the volunteers in the CFU teams.

All CFUs are being trained in the use of these new state-of-the-art foam tankers, and the training will be progressively rolled out over the next two to three months. The tankers enable the volunteers and the paid fire fighters to lay a protective blanket of foam over the ground to act as a firebreak. The foam firebreak can very effectively cover the ground vegetation and even be sprayed into large trees, and lasts up to three hours.

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