“I lost the truck”: a firefighter “jumped through the flames” in vain to save the vehicle
A fire engine used by the Ashburton Volunteer Brigade caught fire while firefighters were battling a rural fire in March 2021.
An “inherent lack of knowledge” of urban firefighters in fighting wildland fires contributed to the loss of a $500,000 fire truck in a rural blaze, a review has found.
Seven crew attended a paddock fire near Ashburton in March last year. Several firefighters from an Ashburton crew were battling the blaze when a wind-whipped “wall of flames” started moving towards them.
As the blaze spread, a firefighter jumped through the flames to get to the driver’s seat of the fire truck and try to move it to safety.
It didn’t budge and the vehicle’s rear tires – estimated to be around $500,000 – quickly caught fire. The driver escaped before it was destroyed.
* An Ashburton fire engine worth around $500,000 was completely destroyed while battling the blaze
* More than 70 firefighters attended the South Taranaki Forest Block fire
* South Island firefighters busy with nighttime fires
The lorry fire prompted Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) to open an internal investigation and issue an investigation report and operational review. They found that urban firefighters were fighting many wildland fires with “little or no understanding of the real dangers they face”.
Thing understands that the review was briefly posted on an internal website last year, but has been removed.
Asked about its status, a Fenz spokeswoman said the review had not yet been finalized.
“This is because the review will be considered in the context of a number of other health and safety related processes that have been triggered by the incident and are currently underway.”
They would not answer any other questions regarding the exam.
However, Thing had been leaked a copy of it.
In its findings, the review team pointed to the relatively poor understanding of wildfires by urban officers and the disparity in training hours of urban and rural officers in fighting these fires.
The review said that since Fenz was established in 2017, urban brigades have attended over 16,000 vegetation incidents with a possible total of 29 hours of training, while rural officers have attended over 4,400 incidents. of vegetation but with a possible total training of 63 hours.
The results led to a host of recommendations, including specific wildfire training for urban officers, particularly around the initial response.
During the Ashburton paddock fire, the operational review indicated that the officer in charge of the destroyed fire engine believed that the “head of the fire” – the fastest spreading part – had overshot his position and that of another crew who had to deal with a combine harvester on fire. combine.
He then instructed his crew to attack the flank of the fire, but in doing so they were overwhelmed by smoke. Their visibility rapidly deteriorated and the wind “increased considerably”.
The officer then saw a “wall of flames picked up by the wind heading towards them and their truck”. The crew’s pump operator attempted to move the vehicle first, to no avail.
“The driver jumped through the flames to get to the driver’s seat and again tried to move [the truck].”
But it still wasn’t moving. The truck’s rear tires quickly ignited and became “well embroiled in the fire”.
They withdrew and the officer in charge radioed another crew, “I’ve lost the truck.”
Examination revealed that the crew receiving the call thought that due to dense smoke, “lost” simply meant loss of visibility, so no one tried to put out the fire.
“Due to the size of the paddock and the smoke, the devices could not see each other. The different sectors did not know the big picture [and] a clear command and control structure was not established until later in the incident.
“The review team identifies the importance of training and skills development within wildfire fire and emergency services across its “urban branch” of the organization.
“As demonstrated in this event, city officials are witnessing a significant number of wildfires with little or no understanding of the actual dangers they face.”
Former National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield welcomed recommendations that were critical of how urban officers assess wildfires and disparities in training hours.
“I think these are good observations made by the reviewers and it is encouraging to see that they are willing to do so.”
Dudfield, he would have liked to see more detail on expenditures and the effectiveness of resources deployed in the report.
He also noted the lag between the incident and the completion of the report.
“It took a long time for many of these reports to fall into the public domain. If you’re sitting outside and it takes over a year to produce these reports, something is wrong somewhere in my opinion.