A key focus for the NSW Fire Brigades is assisting communities to prepare for fires and minimise the risk.
Terry Munsey, Deputy Manager, Bushfire Natural Hazards Protection Unit of the NSW Fire Brigades (NSWFB) was the Guest Speaker at the Castlecrag Progress Association’s General Meeting in February. He spoke on the formation and operation of Community Fire Units (CFUs).
Terry stated that the interface between residential areas and bush is a wonderful living environment, but also generates risk of fire. Landowners on the interface with bush have the responsibility for managing the fire risk. These risks relate to three stages of a fire – before it gets there, during the fire and after the fire (e.g., cleaning the roof is important, but not once the fire is on its way.) In the Blue Mountains bushfires of 1994 more people were injured falling off their roofs than by the fires. Property owners need to minimise the risk to their homes and to their neighbours. The local council has a huge task to manage the risk with a bushfire preparedness plan.
The NSW Fire Brigades’ priorities are firstly, your personal safety, secondly, your house, and other assets after that. They work with local councils to develop sound bushfire management plans. Willoughby Council invests a lot of resources to manage the bushland-property interface. The principle is to make the houses at this interface more prepared to counter the fire risk without causing drastic changes to the landscape and associated negative environmental impacts that may occur with widespread hazard reduction measures. Local areas need different approaches, depending on the vegetation species, etc. If the preparation measures are in place and sound hazard reduction strategies are carried out, you will minimise the risk of property damage from bushfires.
CFUs in NSW
The development of CFUs has occurred as the result of the catastrophic bush fire event in 1994 (e.g., in the Lane Cove Valley). Under these conditions, there were not enough fire engines to attend to all calls. Therefore a new strategy was developed to empower people to prepare prior to a fire. There are now 357 CFUs in NSW with over 6000 people in the program. While units occur across all of NSW, they are predominantly in the metropolitan area. The preparation that occurred through CFUs in the Hornsby area prior to the 2002 bushfires (which were very similar to those of 1994) meant that these fires had little impact and not a single home was lost.
About 50 CFUs a year are being formed. They are not intended to be fire-fighting units – the emphasis is on prevention and property protection. Currently there are three CFUs in the Middle Cove/Castle Cove area and the NSWFB is in the process of establishing a fourth. A problem is the high rate of dropout of members – as people are increasingly resource-rich and time-poor.
The NSW Fire Brigade Act gives NSWFB the power to undertake action to extinguish fires, and a change in the Act in 2005 gave the NSWFB responsibility for training CFU members through local fire stations.
The CFU concept
The aim of CFUs is to have communities better prepared when there is a fire in, or approaching, their area. They are located on the urban interface within the NSWFB area and each CFU has a limited area of operation. CFU members work alongside fire fighters, but focus on property protection. The program is not intended to train fire fighters. Units can be equipped with either cabinets (boxes) or trailers and members make a commitment to undertake regular training.
CFU activities include equipment training, education and preparation prior to fire activity. CFU members are required to undertake 12 hours per year to supervised training. This allows NSWFB to assess the preparedness of each CFU.
The NSWFB keeps constant contact with CFUs, and their operation is restricted to very small neighbourhood area. Each CFU is structured under a team leader, who is the point of contact for the CFU. CFU members are covered for workers compensation and liability insurance.
CFUs are informed about fires in their area and need to contact ‘000’ prior to commencing any activities during fires. The CFU regional coordinators respond to fire activity where CFUs are engaged in fire management. ABC Radio is widely used to get information out to communities.
Establishing CFUs in Castlecrag
Castlecrag, with all of its bushland reserves, would benefit by having a number of CFUs established. For example:
- Residents adjacent to the Castlecrag Northern Escarpment might be interested in forming a local CFU;
- The Bulwark area will soon apply to form a CFU (Contacts for this: Richard Newton tel. 9967 4933 or Peter Moffitt tel. 9958 1213).
If your neighbourhood might have an interest in forming a CFU, we suggest that you convene an informal gathering of your neighbours in the first instance; there is an application form on the NSW Fire Brigades website or you can email for more information to firstname.lastname@example.org\v.au.
Of course, if you would like to post a notice in the next issue of The Crag to invite neighbours to get together for this purpose, just contact The Editor and we will be glad to help.
Lorraine Cairnes and Bob McKillop