COMMISH’S CORNER

Wednesday 11 September 2013 - Number 572  
CURRENT NATIONAL SECURITY ALERT LEVEL : MEDIUM

GENERAL

Bushfire season early start

Yesterday we had a taste of what summer and spring may have in store for us. The weather forecast for Sydney and other coastal regions was for warm weather, moderate winds, and Very High fire danger. Certainly not unusual at this time of year. However by lunchtime temperatures had topped 30 degrees in most parts of Sydney, strong north westerly winds were gusting over 70kph, and the humidity dropped to single figures in some areas. The forest fire danger index reached 83 Extreme at Mascot, and was Severe in most other parts of Sydney. It was not long before the first serious outbreaks occurred. A fire at Castlereagh near Penrith ultimately consumed more than 900ha, a fire at Winmalee in the Lower Blue Mountains consumed more than 500 hectares, and a fire at Marsden Park destroyed a home and several out buildings. At one stage around 70 FRNSW appliances were committed to western Sydney and Blue Mountains firegrounds. By 1300 hours all training and drills had been cancelled, staff recalled to bring back on line 4 TOLed stations, 8 appliances from the College were staffed by instructors and dispatched to fires, and 4 appliances from Greenacre were also stowed, staffed and dispatched.
Last night I toured the firegrounds with RFS Commissioner Fitzsimmons and our Minister, and spoke to dozens of weary, bleary-eyed FRNSW, RFS and Parks and Wildlife firefighters. I am immensely proud of the efforts of the frontline firefighters and commanders, Communication Centre staff and support areas who ensured that we responded quickly and effectively to what could have been a far worse situation that property losses were confined to just 1 home is remarkable and testament to firefighters' efforts. My thanks and congratulations to all.

Recruit graduation

I attended the second 2013 recruit graduation at our State Training College last week where the Acting Minister for Police and Emergency Services Chris Hartcher and I welcomed 24 new firefighters to FRNSW. I am pleased that this class had 10 female graduates, more than we have ever had before in a single recruit class. Amongst the were 4 2nd generation firefighters, each of whom were presented with their graduation certificates by their fathers; and also the great grandson of former Chief Fire Officer William Beare and grandson of former Secretary to the Board of Fire Commissioners, the late Bill Beare. Commendations were also presented during the graduation ceremony to taxi driver Mr Hassan Chahrouk and Ms Jade Safein, who together rescued a wheelchair-bound elderly woman from her burning Merrylands West home on 2 April this year.

StormSafe Week 2013

We work closely with our SES colleagues on a daily basis, particularly during severe weather events and natural disasters. Last year we responded to nearly 7000 calls relating to storms, floods and other damaging weather events. With the storm season beginning soon as the weather warms up, last week the SES promoted StormSafe Week. Two websites have also been developed StormSafe and FloodSafe to provide safety information to the public. These sites contain a range of resources to make people aware of the risks posed by severe weather events and assist them to prepare their homes and families for the upcoming storm season. I encourage you to visit these websites to familiarise yourself with their contents, and to use this information as we educate the community on how to be better prepared to deal with a range of emergencies.

New improved AIRS on the way

By now I hope you have all had a chance to watch the Intelligence Test video. FRNSW uses AIRS (the Australian Incident Reporting System) to capture detailed incident information which is critical to our organisational decision-making. We use AIRS to understand, prevent and reduce the impact of fires and other emergency incidents; assess and provide improved training; make equipment improvements; see possible trends and put action plans in place; and educate our community in safe fire practices.
Increasingly, staff have complained that AIRS is not overly user friendly, so we are developing a new improved version which will be incorporated into the eOccurrence Book. The AIRS redesign will be easier to use with simplified and streamlined processes for capturing incident information. This will enable better access to reporting, and improved quality of data and statistics on FRNSW's workload and performance to both internal and external stakeholders (ie government and the community). A Consultation Group made up primarily of Station Officers and Captains has been set up to provide critical input into the AIRS redesign. The new improved AIRS system is scheduled to be launched in the first quarter of 2014.

Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy

The FRNSW Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy commenced on 4 September. I want to acknowledge and thank the FBEU for its invaluable feedback and suggestions which enabled us to reach an agreed position and to ensure that the policy is both practical and supportive. The policy is an important part of our shared commitment to maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. The policy ensures that staff will not be adversely affected in the workplace by alcohol or substance misuse thereby protecting the safety of both our workforce and the community. Support is also available to staff with genuine dependency issues.
Under this policy, training and information will be provided on the harmful effects of alcohol and/or other drugs, and advice and support services for employees experiencing difficulties with these substances. The policy also sets standards for substance use, and promotes personal responsibility on alcohol consumption and responsible and lawful use of general medications.
The testing procedures for alcohol and other drugs will operate from 1 December 2013, which is also when testing, including random testing, will commence.The full policy is available on the Intranet.

Operational Capability Directorate on the move

Some units within the Operational Capability Directorate have recently changed locations. Assistant Commissioner Mark Brown, Director Operational Capability and the Capability Management branch led by Chief Superintendent Paul McGuiggan have moved to Alexandria and are now on the ground floor below the Sydney Communication Centre. The Specialised Operations branch, led by Chief Superintendent John Denny, including the Hazmat/CBR and Rescue/USAR teams, is still based at the Ingleburn facility, but the Bushfire team has relocated to NSW RFS Headquarters in Lidcombe. The Operational Communications branch, led by Chief Superintendent Greg Wild, is now located on level 2 at Alexandria above the Sydney Communication Centre. The Community Fire Units branch is now located with the Zone Metro West 2 office, above Parramatta Fire Station and Samantha Colwell has been successful in gaining the new Manager's position there. The phone numbers for many staff within the Directorate have changed and these can be accessed from the online Phone Book. Further information about the new structure of Operational Capability can be found under 'Directorates' on the Intranet.

Nowra retained firefighters move back to Bridge Rd Fire Station

On Thursday 5 September, Nowra's retained firefighters moved back into the fire station on Bridge Road following extensive renovations both internally and externally, providing firefighters with new, more modern facilities including a large training room, a new mess room and office space. The crew also took delivery of a new Type 2 pumper. Permanent firefighters remain at the fire station on Norfolk Avenue, which has been renamed Shoalhaven Fire Station. I look forward to inspecting the newly refurbished Nowra Fire Station and seeing the retained firefighters at the official opening later this year. 

US fire chief addresses retained issues

On 29 August US Fire Chief Philip Stittleberg gave a presentation on issues around retained and volunteer recruitment and retention at the City of Sydney Fire Station.
Chief Stittelberg is the National Chair of the US National Volunteer Fire Council and is also Chair of the National Fire Protection Association board. He is highly regarded within US fire services and has previously been awarded Fire Chief Magazine's "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year". The recruitment and retention of retained or volunteer staff is a critical issue facing all fire and emergency services in Australia. Chief Stittleberg provided many valuable insights into this issue based on his extensive experience working in the volunteer system.

Overwhelming support for the 2013 IPP Pre-Entry Test

Last Friday was the deadline for Station Officers to submit their evidence based portfolio for the IPP pre-entry test. The response has been overwhelming with 96 Station Officers submitting applications for the 2013 IPP pre-entry test. This is more than double the number of Station Officers that have historically applied for the old pre-entry test, demonstrating the support for the changes. Through collaboration with a cross section of staff and the FBEU, we have been able to develop a process that has huge support and that people want to be involved with.
Station Officers who have applied for the 2013 IPP Pre-Entry Test will sit a psychometric test over the coming week. This will be followed by interviews in the following week to allow candidates to be chosen and offered positions before the IPP commences on the 30 September 2013.
Please contact the project team at IPPfeedback@fire.nsw.gov.au if you have any questions or feedback.

R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day on 12 September is a national day of action that encourages Australians to connect with people they care about and to help stop little problems turning into big problems. By raising awareness about the importance of connecting with others and looking out for each other, R U OK? Day aims to prevent isolation by encouraging people to support each other through life's ups and downs. Regular, meaningful conversations can protect those whom we know and care about. It's very simple, but in the time it takes to have a coffee, you could start a conversation that could change a life. Ask your family, friends, colleagues and fellow firefighters: "Are you OK?" Click here for more information on how to start a conversation with someone to ask "R U OK", or for support services available to all FRNSW employees, click here.

NSW and Queensland firefighters' "state of origin"

Members of FNRSW's rugby league association are heading north to Brisbane this weekend to take on Queensland Fire and Rescue in an inaugural "state of origin" competition at Wynnum Manly's Kougari Oval on Saturday. The Open sides of both states will battle it out for the title while our Masters team will take on a local Wynnum Manly side during the competition. Proceeds from the day, which commemorates the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on September 11 2001 in New York, will be donated to QFRS' charity of choice. The association has been very fortunate to have the support of NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley who ran a training session last week and former Blues coach and rugby league commentator Phil Gould who presented team members with their jerseys at City of Sydney Fire Station yesterday. I wish our players all the very best.

INCIDENTS

3rd Alarm Coffs Harbour shopping complex fire

At 0932hrs on Wednesday 4 September, crews were called to a fire in the "Rivers" clothing store in a shopping complex on Harbour Drive at Coffs Harbour.
257 Coffs Harbour reported large volumes of black smoke issuing from the front doors and called for a 3rd Alarm response. Due to the heavy fuel loading of multiple racks of clothing and shoes etc, it was difficult to immediately locate the seat of the fire. As smoke levels increased, surrounding shops throughout the shopping complex were evacuated and hundreds of workers and shoppers were evacuated to safer areas.
Although crews were able to contain the fire spread to the original store premises, it took several more hours to extinguish the seat of the fire which was deeply seated under piles of smouldering clothing items. Firefighters were successful in preventing damage to the adjoining premises including the adjoining Commonwealth Bank. Local media interest was high as the local community was heavily impacted due to hundreds of surrounding shops in the mall remaining closed for most of the day.
Police are still conducting their investigations into information received regarding suspicious circumstances surrounding the ignition of the fire. Well done to the following crews that attended: 257 Coffs Harbour permanent and retained, 441 Sawtell, 476 Urunga, 257 Bellingen, 257 Nambucca Heads, 507 Woolgoolga and 306 Grafton.

2nd Alarm "smoke and mirrors" call

City of Sydney fire crews were confronted with an unusual scenario when they responded to an AFA call to the Dior store on the corner of Castlereagh and King Streets, Sydney on Wednesday 4 September at 1908 hrs. In addition to the AFA, Police advised that there were huge volumes of smoke issuing and a Triple Zero caller reported they were trapped inside the building.
A 2nd Alarm response was dispatched and City of Sydney crews arrived within minutes, reporting that the ground floor was filled with thick smoke. Crews in SCBA quickly searched the shop area and despite almost zero visibility, located a worker trapped inside. The worker was carried outside to waiting ambulance crews and treated.
Crews became suspicious as they observed that the smoke was stark white and didn't have the usual "smoke smell" for a building fire. Further investigations revealed that the smoke was actually part of a smoke drenching system designed to foil robbery attempts within the premises. A staff member had apparently inadvertently activated the system during the lockup procedures. The entire ground floor of the shop area was immediately filled with thick white smoke. Although non-toxic, visibility is reduced to almost zero within seconds of activation of these type of systems and present unique challenges to attending firefighters.
Crews attended from 1 City of Sydney, 3 The Rocks, 4 Darlinghurst and 38 Pyrmont.

5th Alarm factory fire at Girraween

On Friday 6 September at 1451hrs, numerous 000 calls were received to a fire in a truck repair factory in Mandoon Road, Girraween. 43 Seven Hills were on scene within eight minutes and reported a factory well alight and initially called for a 3rd Alarm, later upgrading it to a 5th Alarm response.
Flames were through the roof at the front and several explosions occurred as the fire took hold of the administration area of the factory. Live powerlines also posed a risk as crews attempted an internal attack to cut the fire off and prevent it spreading to the large workshop and flammable fuel storage area behind the administration building. An aerial attack was also successfully deployed to protect rear exposures and prevent the fire spreading to adjoining factory complexes.
It took about an hour and a half to bring the fire under control and successfully contain it to the front administration section. I attended the fire and was impressed at how a well planned offensive attack established cut offs, protected the nearby flammable storage area, and saved 50% of the factory. At least a dozen new trucks adjacent to the workshop area also escaped with minimal damage.
Fortunately the fire occurred in an industrial area and despite the thick smoke, no evacuations were required. Mandoon Road was closed during the firefighting operations as a water relay was required at the height of operations.
Crews remained on scene throughout the next day to cool a number of hotspots. Fire investigators are yet to determine the cause of the fire. Well done to the following crews for quickly containing the fire. 43 Seven Hills, 57 Wentworthville, 97 Huntingwood, 72 Merrylands, 27 Parramatta, 67 Northmead, 63 Blacktown, 1 City of Sydney, 77 St Marys, 19 Silverwater, 55 Guildford, 65 Rydalmere, 49 Cabramatta, 15 Burwood, 07 Horningsea Park and 47 Revesby


Commissioner's email: Commissioner@fire.nsw.gov.au
Sandra Garcia, EA to Commissioner: 9265 2930
Ask the Commissioner: OfficeOfTheCommissioner@fire.nsw.gov.au
To contribute a story, please contact the Media, Ministerial and Communications Unit: 9265 2907