Blue Mountains firefighters welcomed two Compressed Air Foam System fire tankers [CAFS] recently, following a protracted two-year battle between the union and the state government to install the frontline resource of firefighting equipment to this region.
A 9,500 litre, $445,000 CAFS tanker was installed at Springwood fire station, and an identical one placed in Katoomba, and 32 officers will receive specialist training before the end of the month to operate them.
The newest firefighting technology uses foam mixed with water, increasing the capacity of the tanker by five times – because the water lasts longer, the tankers are far more efficient on the fire ground.
The tankers were the centre of discussion last year when the Gazette revealed Blue Mountains City Council had weighed into a political debate with the Fire Brigade Employees Union and the then Minister for Emergency Services, David Elliott, asking for answers about the promised firefighting equipment to the high bushfire risk Mountains region. The tankers were slated for the Mountains but had ended up in western Sydney instead.
Council’s general manager Robert Greenwood said the tankers were better suited to property protection during serious bushfires than the standard Fire and Rescue NSW appliances and the proposed redeployment compromised the safety of the Mountains.
Fire Brigade Employees’ Union country sub branch representative Tim Anderson, who has been campaigning since the CAFS introduction to the state in 2014 to have them in the Mountains, said: “You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know that the greatest risk is in the Mountains and that’s where some of them should be.”
Mr Anderson said the recent about face, redirecting the tankers to the Mountains, was a lucky escape for the government and Fire and Rescue management.
“We are just lucky we didn’t have a [Blue Mountains] bushfire last year. Deploying them in Sydney was an easy fix because with more permanent firemen it’s easier to man, but eventually they [NSWFR management] did come around. They [the tankers] are where they should be.”
Locally, the Springwood firefighters were staying out of the political bunfight and beaming about the new additions, from Cranebrook and Kellyville, and also the upgrades to the other two pumping appliances in their armoury.
“We’re rapt,” said Station Officer Rod Kinder. “The capacity of the two permanent stations in the Mountains is now about as up-to-date as we can get.”
Firefighter John Dufty, who has more than four decades of experience, said the tankers had the added bonus of being safer for fireys as they could be operated by a joystick in the cabin and thus reduced smoke inhalation and fatigue. The tankers had proved highly effective in the Hazelwood coal mine fire in Victoria in 2014 and the Mountains tankers had been used recently at fires in Emu Plains and Richmond.
In a lengthy statement in May last year to the Gazette, the then Minister for Emergency Services, David Elliott, said when deciding the preferred locations for placement of Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS), FRNSW “considered numerous fire stations across NSW”.
“At the end of 2014, a bulk 9,500 litre CAFS tanker was installed at Cranebrook fire station, near Glenbrook, increasing fire protection for the Lower Mountains. As with all FRNSW appliances, this tanker can be redeployed anywhere it is required. He said there were “plans to place another 9,500 litre CAFS tanker at Katoomba fire station, and this is being negotiated with the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union at present.”