Fighting forest fires in a fortress on wheels

Fighting forest fires in a fortress on wheels

08 May 2013

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Australia — When a fire ignites in one of South Australia’s plantation forests, response crews need a vehicle that is bomb-proof.

The fleet of 15 Fire Kings utilised by Forestry SA literally are.

Built on the same chassis and running gear that the Australian Army uses for Bushmaster armoured personnel carriers, the trucks are modified for the specific fire fighting purposes of a plantation outbreak.

The vehicles are capable of carrying four crew members and up to 3,700 litres of water.

It offers 3,000 litres for fire extinguishing, with a 700 litre reserve for crew and asset protection.

“We have water sprayers over the whole truck,” explained Forestry SA’s Glenn Josephs.

The vehicles have independent suspension, automatic transmission, and central tyre deflation and ‘run flat’ capacity.

The trucks also carry several hundred metres of canvas fire hose, mounted at the rear of the vehicle to enable them to be backed into narrow fire tracks or openings.

“Basically they can go anywhere we need them to go.”

And they are able to get there fast.

At a size similar to a hammer head truck, they can travel up to 100km/h.

“They’re like driving a car.”

The modern day Fire King: A fortress on wheels for fighting plantation fires (Brett Williamson)With hoses mounted at the back of the truck, the Fire King can get into almost any space Forestry SA firefighters need (Brett Williamson)

The changing face of forest fire fighting

After the death of eight Woods and Forest employees in the Wandilo Fire of 8 April 1958 the department took great measures to improve the safety of their vehicles.

Moving from a horse and cart in 1925 to tanker trucks in the 1930s and 1950s, they began to add shielding to the side of vehicles and improve cabin safety for crews.

Vehicles were changed from petrol models to diesel, reducing the issue of fuel evaporation in heat, 4WD cab chassis vehicles were used and fire trails and breaks were upgraded to hardened, all weather surfaces

About eight years ago Forestry SA invested in the current fleet of Fire Kings.

“We always try and plan not to be in those situations, but it does happen sometimes, and we think our crews are fairly well protected in these.

“That’s what it is all about, protecting our crews.”

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