NZ firefighter injuries could have been avoided: report

NZ firefighter injuries could have been avoided: report

20 November 2008

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New Zealand/Australia — An internal report has found authorities underestimated the risks posed by a Victorian bushfire that injured a group of New Zealand firefighters in 2006.

Eleven fire fighters were injured and forced to run for their lives when they were caught in a flare up near Mansfield in north-east Victoria.

The ABC has obtained a report by Australian and New Zealand fire authorities that criticises the management of the team.

It shows they were working on a steep slope with the fire below them and unburnt ground in between.

Former chief fire officer Athol Hodgson says the crew should never have been sent into the area.

“The people in charge of the situation knew the night before, in fact they knew the day before that the fire had crossed Steiner’s Road,” he said.

“They knew there was unburnt country below the road.

“Someone should have reviewed the situation the night before and said ‘no, it’s not on’.”

Mr Hodgson says that breaks one of the most basic rules of firefighting.

“It’s an absolute no everywhere, it doesn’t matter if the fuel is heavy or not,” he said.

“Firefighters around the world have died because they’ve been working uphill of an uncontrolled fire below them.”

However, the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s assistant chief fire officer, Liam Fogarty, says the decisions of the fire authorities did not substantially contribute to the incident.

“Ultimately it was an assessment of local area risks and not quite taking on board the complexity of the environment they were working in,” he said.

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