Lessons learned from Australian incident

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The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has “obtained” a copy of the internal report about the 2006 entrapment of 11 New Zealand firefighters on a fire in Victoria, Australia. It appears that the major contributing factor was that the crew was uphill from the fire with unburned fuel below them. We’ve seen this situation before in numerous fatality reports.

What is surprising is that the report does not appear to have been released publicly. I don’t know how the ABC “obtained” a copy of the report; I’ve searched for it online and can’t find it. Maybe this report from a 2006 fire is still in draft and will be released later. But if we don’t release the findings from close calls and fatalities, we will not be able to benefit from the lessons learned.

A spokesman from the United Firefighters Union in Australia, Greg Pargeter, had this to say:

Mr. Pargeter says the union found it difficult to get the report.

“We’ve had to go to New Zealand to obtain a copy,” he said.

“And we would say that the CFA should be open and transparent with its stakeholders, including the United Firefighters Union, so that we can learn from the mistakes that have been made, and hopefully that they’re not repeated.”

Here is the article about the report, from the ABC website.

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.

HERE is a link to a video news segment about the entrapment and the report.

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