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Firefighting capacity in Bungendore area – is the town at risk?

by Deryck Clarke

Deputy Captain Bungendore Rural Fire Brigade

In the past decade Bungendore has more than doubled in size. But the emergency services capacity to deal with a growing village and its suburbs has been significantly compromised by the removal of the town pumper, which was dedicated to providing protection to buildings within the town.

The residents of Bungendore have every right to ask of their local member and NSW RFS command “Why was the town pumper removed when the township is increasing both in population and complexity?” The community should be encouraged to exercise that right!

The Bungendore Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade has always been a progressive brigade and has never shrunk from taking the lead when it comes to improving its fire fighting capability and capacity.

Bungendore bought equipment

The Bungendore Brigade has used its contacts in the community to raise substantial donations towards independently improving its fire fighting capacity and capability. On the other hand the NSW RFS administration has been reducing these efforts by removing fire fighting appliances from the brigade.

In past years the brigade bought a fast fill trailer for refilling firefighting tankers whilst working in remote areas.  More recently it has received two auto rewind hose reels – one for each of its two main fire trucks, courtesy of the Bungendore Community Bank® and Holcim.

The Bungendore Community Bank® has also donated a welfare trailer that supports the whole of the Lake George Zone by providing hot meals and fresh food to fire fighters in the field.

During the same period, the NSW RFS command has removed the town pumper, which was dedicated to protecting the township of Bungendore and our small CAT 9 (Land Cruiser size) fire tanker. Their current intent is to remove the brigade’s personnel carrier (Land Cruiser Troopcarrier), which tows the brigade’s trailers.

Capability and capacity: they aren’t the same

In a Canberra Times article from 20 January 2013 under the title Bungendore calls for help in replacing its fire fighting trucks, RFS Lake George Zone manager Tim Carroll is quoted as saying “…the station’s fleet had been modernised in recent years.”

It didn’t say that whilst the brigade’s fleet has been “modernised”, this is a reflection of its increase in capability. Replacement trucks are to take the Breathing Apparatus (BA) equipment that the brigade is now qualified to use.

These vehicle replacements in no way increase the brigade’s “capacity” to pump water onto fires or attend more incidents at the same time.

It could be argued that the increase in “capability” exacerbates the reduced “capacity”. Being specialised in BA operations means the Bungendore Brigade may be called away from the town to deal with an incident elsewhere in the Lake George Zone, or beyond.

Without a dedicated pumper, the level of protection that can be supplied to the town in times when resources are stretched, as in recent weeks, has to be questioned. During the recent emergency there was an instance when all three Bungendore trucks were out of town fighting the bush fires and there was no immediate cover within the township.

The NSW RFS command states in the Canberra Times article “…extra resources can be called in from nearby brigades”. However, when we have an emergency of the level over the past few weeks these “extra resources” are stretched very thin indeed.

Formula for equipment

Behind the equipment changes is a state formula known as Standards of Fire Cover, which is supposed to assess the fire/emergency risks in a town/area. It appears that the formula is applied in a confusing and possibly discriminatory manner.

The Bungendore situation as a fast growing area is an example. Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicates that if the Standards of Fire Cover formula were to be applied across the Lake George Zone there would be enough excess vehicles to provide the township of Bungendore with a town pumper or similar firefighting appliance.

Response time is the main problem in regard to calling in the necessary fire truck from another area. Unless a suitable fire truck can get to the burning house within 15 to 20 minutes, the chances of saving that house or any one trapped in it, are limited.

The Bungendore Brigade averages eight minutes to turn out and now has the (still rare) BA equipment to enter a burning house. The brigade has sufficient membership depth to respond to a domestic house fire whilst also attending to other emergencies such as bush fires or motor vehicle accidents.

The Bungendore Brigade has over 50 members and only three fire fighting appliances whilst there are some brigades within the Lake George Zone that have six fire fighting trucks but less than 20 brigade members.

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