On Standby

DSCF7630I spent much of yesterday at the Mongarlow Fire Shed on standby.
It was declared a Catostrophic fire day under the Fire Danger Rating index. On such a day “Fires will likely be uncontrollable, unpredictable and very fast moving with highly aggressive flames extending high above tree tops and buildings”. People are advised to leave their homes early, hours or the day before a fire occurs since “even well prepared and constructed homes will not be safe”.
We had enough people on standby to fill our two fire trucks. We listened to the radio exchanges throughout the day. I spent much of the morning revisiting my first aid guidelines and recorded weather details throughout the day. At one point we reached a relative humidity of 14% and were experiencing gusts of a westerly wind up to 50 kmph.
In the early afternoon a fire broke out at Sand Hills. This was not in our immediate vicinity and we were advised to await further instructions. As I listened to the next two hours of exchanges as crews were deployed I was struck by:

  • The confidence and clarity of the team in Fire Control.
  • The adaptability of the fire crews on the fire ground facing very difficult conditions.
  • The need for urgent response and rapid decision-making.
  • The awareness of threats outside the current emergency.

What was occurring at the Sand Hills fire was a real-time, live scenario that had been the subject of training of crews in the Palerang District for the last three years.
DSCF7629I think sport has a great deal to learn from the experiences of volunteer fire fighters and their full-time colleagues. One of the most important for me yesterday was the benefits to be gained from a training model that emphasises the consequences of decisions and actions.
It is very difficult to have high fidelity in all training contexts but I was conscious during the Sand Hills fire that a live event drew upon procedures and practices honed in practice. This was particularly the case when, during the fire, a number of Red Messages were sent. These messages have utmost priority in radio traffic and indicate a danger to crews.
We were stood down from Mongarlowe at 7pm and three colleagues from the team went to work overnight on monitoring conditions at the Sand Hill fire. There was a report of the status of the fire here.
Crews in my region are on call again today but a change in the weather has reduced today’s risks.
Reflecting on yesterday I realised that my training had given me some readiness to perform and I was reminded that, as in sport, we have four options:

  • Attack
  • Contain
  • Defend
  • Flee

Understanding the difference between attack and flee is pivotal for volunteers.


    • Judging by all the reports on our TV news channels, it looks pretty awful down there at the moment.
      As Michael Conrad playing the role of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus in Hill Street Blues used to say “Hey, let’s be careful out thereā€

      • Thanks for your thoughts, Gordon. Sergeant Phil’s advice is very good. My experiences in the fire service are transforming the way I think about sport. Particularly in regard to perspective. Some colleagues at the Sand Hill fire were facing a 30m wall of flame whilst trying to save a property. This weekend is another high risk weekend.
        Best wishes (almost wrote Warmest wishes!)


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