Uni students fight fire using local research

Winmalee resident John Donahoe at his Paulwood Road property last Thursday where his house once stood before October's bushfires.

Winmalee resident John Donahoe at his Paulwood Road property last Thursday where his house once stood before October's bushfires.

Professor Simon Reay-Atkinson with engineering students at the University of Sydney who will deliver research findings on how to reduce risk and loss during bushfires at a special presentation at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre hall on June 6.

Professor Simon Reay-Atkinson with engineering students at the University of Sydney who will deliver research findings on how to reduce risk and loss during bushfires at a special presentation at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre hall on June 6.

Community resilience demonstrated during October's bushfires is the subject of a unique research project by final year engineering students at the University of Sydney, who will present their findings to the public and industry representatives in Lawson on June 6.

Led by Professor Simon Reay-Atkinson, the students investigated better project management methods before and after major bushfires based on real life experiences and developing ways to bolster a community's ability to deal with bushfires and their aftermath.

To do this - in what a University of Sydney spokesperson described as "the first time this kind of project has been conducted anywhere in the world" - the students interviewed Blue Mountains emergency services volunteers, staff and also people who lost their homes, including Winmalee resident John Donahoe, as part of their coursework.

They will present their group research findings and also individual recommendations to a panel of industry representatives from Blue Mountains City Council, insurance companies NRMA and IAG, senior engineers and university staff.

Interested members of the public are invited to attend between 11am and 3pm on June 6 inside the hall at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre.

There will be opportunities to ask the students questions.

"We are delighted to be part of a project that could potentially bring benefit to a great number of families both in the Blue Mountains and other bushfire prone regions," the spokesperson said.

Mr Donahoe - whose house was one of five destroyed by bushfire on Paulwood Road - told the Gazette his involvement in the research project came about by chance.

"My daughter, Keara, is an opera singer who works part-time at the university's engineering and information technology department and she knew I was devastated at losing all my rugby union memorabilia in the fire," he said.

"Next thing I was at the campus being presented with a signed Wallabies jumper and ended up chatting with Simon (Professor Reay-Atkinson) about the bushfires, who was very interested in what I said.

"He arranged for me to talk to the engineering students and later I introduced them to others who lost their homes and also chased up captains of the local Rural Fire Service brigades to see if they were interested in participating."

Professor Reay-Atkinson said "this is an exciting research project that's part of a new set of undergraduate courses we've developed".

"It looks at a real life problem, which makes what the students are doing more relevant.

"Some of their work is really mind-blowing."

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