CFA admits fire advice needs review

CFA admits fire advice needs review

10 June 2009

published by

Australia — Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) has admitted it needs to review its fundamental advice that sheltering in houses can save lives in a bushfire.

The admission came at the royal commission into the deadly Black Saturday fires, in which most of the victims perished in their homes.

CFA chief officer Russell Rees said information advising people to shelter from radiant heat in their homes while a fire front passed could now be out of date.

The advice was included on a DVD sent last year to 60,000 homes in bushfire prone areas on Melbourne’s fringe, the inquiry was told on Wednesday.

Of the 173 victims of the February 7 fires, 113 died in houses.

Mr Rees said the message in the DVD was for people to prepare their homes to stay alive – a message that now concerned him.

“I’m concerned now – with the evidence we have that a lot of people died in their houses – that we have to re-look at that whole notion (of) what makes a house safer,” he told the commission.

He also said he feared there had not been enough emphasis on the possibility of a “killer fire” breaking out, despite the long running drought.

“My greatest fear is that through this whole period of drought, our focus hasn’t been on killer fires, and our community hasn’t been attuned to that fact,” Mr Rees said.

But he did not believe strong words such as “firestorm” or “mega-fire” should be used in community warnings to describe massive bushfires such as those on February 7.

Commission chairman Bernard Teague asked Mr Rees if it would be appropriate to use the term “killer fire” to describe future bushfires with the potential to claim lives.

Mr Rees said he would hesitate to use that term every time.

“I think it’s worth looking at our terminology … that we have the potential for large devastating fires that have the potential to kill,” he said.

He rejected suggestions from Mr Teague that the terms “firestorm” or “mega-fire” should be used.

Earlier, the commission was told that saving human lives should be the CFA’s top priority in a fire.

Mr Rees told the commission that under the CFA Act, the first priority was to protect the lives of fire fighters, and saving the community was the second priority.

Protecting critical infrastructure and quickly stopping new outbreaks of fire were third and fourth down the list of priorities, Mr Rees said.

Mr Teague questioned why the CFA didn’t think to give the highest priority to saving all human lives, including those of fire fighters, above all others.

Mr Rees agreed, saying the act was written in 2003 and he had this year ordered a review.

“This is a language issue that we have to look at,” he said.

“Clearly, the issue of keeping people alive is vital to our business,” he said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien