Katoomba fire truck missing in action

Katoomba-Leura Rural Fire Brigade battled last summer's entire fire season without its primary truck.

The category one vehicle and a crew were deployed to northern NSW early in the spring to fight fires there. After the crew returned, the truck remained in the north where it was used by other brigades.

It was not returned to the Mountains until March when the fire threat was over. And the vehicle needed $18,000 of repairs.

The aftermath in the Upper Mountains after last summer's fires.

The aftermath in the Upper Mountains after last summer's fires.

"This meant that Katoomba/Leura RFS had to face no less than seven major bushfire emergencies in our district, three of which presented existential threats to the entire Blue Mountains community, the worst bushfire threat the Blue Mountains has ever experienced in our history, without the use of our primary response vehicle," wrote the brigade's captain, Peter Bennett, in a submission to the NSW bushfire inquiry.

The brigade was lent a smaller vehicle for the summer but it had a faulty handbrake and a problem with a heat seal behind the crew leader's seat.

Mr Bennett recommended the RFS acquire and maintain a reserve fleet of vehicles as back-up during peak firefighting periods.

The Upper Mountains' brigade's submission was one of 1967 received by the inquiry, which is reviewing the causes of, preparation for and response to last season's fires.

Mr Bennett's submission also revealed that the Katoomba-Leura brigade volunteers logged up 10,337 hours in the 2019-20 fire season, many having to put in extended shifts.

"While every attempt was made to generally keep crew shifts to a maximum of 12 hours, it was not unusual for day and night shifts to extend to 14 and sometimes 16 hours at a time with travel to and from the fireground," he wrote.

"Firefighters and drivers continued to operate in circumstances where they were heavily fatigued and under great stress. It is extremely fortunate that these factors did not result in serious injury or death."

He recommended that the RFS carefully review its fatigue management policy and put in place measures to protect the safety of firefighters like dedicated 4WD to transport crews to and from the fireground.

He also suggested that the RFS retrofit all its old vehicles with rollover bars, drop-down fire screens and sprinklers, noting that the three volunteer firefighters killed in NSW during last summer were all victims of vehicle rollovers.

In another submission, the senior deputy captain of Woodford Rural Fire Brigade pleaded for the state government to donate a plot of land adjoining the fire station.

During the fires in November, the land was used as a command post and staging area, said John Grimshaw in his submission.

"We have long had an agreement to be able to use the land if we needed and in this incident, we used every inch of both blocks of land to co-ordinate trucks, feed crews, set up a divisional command, provide public information, as well as just managing our own brigade and its firefighters."

Mr Grimshaw said the brigade had learned that Sydney Water, which owns the block, was now planning to sell it.

"If we were to lose access to that land, the implications would be serious for any future firefighting effort."

He asked the state government to consider donating the land to council, to be used as public space and, in emergencies, as a staging post.

A submission from Kylie Greenan, who founded the Blue Mountains Bushfire Wildlife Volunteer Group last summer, urged authorities to consider installing feed and nesting boxes and corralling teams to ensure animals do not starve after fires.