Veteran firey’s new strategy to boost firefighting equipment
VETERAN CQ firefighter Larry Coleman has spent the past 14 years forming a strategy for Australia to gain the upper hand in bushfires.
Mr Coleman said the severe blazes tearing through Australia in recent times were not bushfires but wildfires, and ground-based firefighters were woefully equipped to fight them.
He said bushfires radiated their heat upwards, and wildfires, fanned by strong wind, radiated heat horizontally up to 500m away.
"In a wildfire, the minute you step outside that truck, the air temperature is about 100 to 200 degrees," Mr Coleman said.
"If you can't get within 500m of a wildfire because of the heat, how are you going to put water on it?"
Combining his engineering degree with 47 years of experience fighting fires around the country, Mr Coleman said he had developed the solution: a heavy machinery national strike force of custom-designed vehicles that could be flown around the country to fight fires.
He identified two vehicles for the strike force, allowing firefighters to fight wildfires without having to leave the safety of their sealed and oxygenated compartments.
The first vehicle he suggested to develop was a 10-wheel American HEMTT A4 which would be fitted with 20,000L tanks and system four water cannons, using a refrigeration and unique gas-infused water delivery system (he developed talking with Australian and American academics) to provide greater range for the cannons.
The other vehicle was a flat tracked FFV09 vehicle uses in China, which could operate in rough terrain and climb over trees to fight fires.
Mr Coleman's proposal would be for the Federal Government to fund these vehicles which could be taken around the country in Australia's Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster aircraft.
He said these ground vehicles would be deployed to operate in tandem with waterbombing aircraft, potentially a national waterbombing fleet.
He was desperately trying to arrange to have three to four hours to explain to Australia's top decision makers in QFES leadership and politicians about his "not so simple" plan he was convinced would succeed, provided enough time and money.
He was convinced he would speak to the Prime Minister but Mr Coleman met with Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd and a staffer in Senator Matt Canavan's office to discuss the issue, in the hope they would take up his cause.
Mr O'Dowd, who has a firefighting background, said he thoroughly enjoyed his conversation with Mr Coleman.
"I think his proposal should be further examined by the state and federal government when they discuss the possible changes to legislation," he said.
"All levels of governments' first priority is to put out the fires that are still burning. The Federal Government will continue to assist the State Governments with this.
"Once different inquiries commence, all levels of government will be able to get together and discuss the best strategies going forward."
Mr O'Dowd said there should be talks on air fleet, equipment types and availability, ADF, Rural Fire Brigade, hazard reduction, cool burn-offs, management of national parks and criminal activities such as arson.
"These talks should also include the fire authorities. This is where Mr Coleman should put together and submit a full proposal," he said.
Senator Canavan confirmed his team met with Mr Coleman last year to discuss his proposal.
"Ideas put forward by members of the public, particularly those with experience in this area, should be given due consideration," he said.
"Once the bushfire situation is brought under control, there will be a broad review examining a range of factors, with involvement and input from the states.
"Ability and equipment needed to fight fires would be a very important aspect to be considered."
He said the Government would look into ways to help Australia better manage bushfires.
"With regards to heavy equipment, state agencies are best placed to determine what they think they need, then discussions can take place with the Federal Government if needed," he said.
Responding to Mr Coleman's proposal, a QFES spokesperson said the service had a continuous program of asset upgrades and replacement.
"QFES continually assesses firefighting appliance technology, to ensure our fleet continues to meet the needs of Queensland's specific hazard environment, while maintaining value for money," the spokesperson said.
"In line with this approach, QFES has designed and organised the construction of two prototype Heavy Attack fire trucks.
"This work involved direct consultation with Rural Fire Service (RFS) and State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers to ensure the vehicles built were fit for task."
They said one vehicle had operated at Wallumbilla, in southwest Queensland, since 2018 and was fitted with firefighting and road crash rescue equipment to meet the area's needs.
"The second prototype is currently being evaluated to determine its suitability, which includes on-road testing and feedback from volunteers," they said.
"This process will be used to inform the future direction of the vehicle build program. This includes how many vehicles may be necessary, the needs of volunteers and the level of capital expenditure that may be required to meet this."
QFES said it held debriefings and workshops with staff and stakeholders after severe bushfires and bushfire seasons but said it would be inappropriate to take part in a review of the current bushfire season while it was ongoing.
They recommended Mr Coleman provide feedback to QFES through its website.