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Ni-Van firefighters training in their 4WD tanker.

New partnership between ACT Emergency Services Agency and the Vanuatu Fire Service

The ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Vanuatu Government in relation to fire and emergency management activities. This arrangement is supported by the ACT Government, Australasian Fire & Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) though the Pacific Islands Emergency Management Alliance (PIEMA) and the Pacific Islands Fire and Emergency Services Association.

Signing the MOU in Vanuatu.

Signing the MOU in Vanuatu.

The first step in developing the relationship between the ESA and the Vanuatu Fire Service was the donation of two fire appliances – an urban pumper from ACT Fire & Rescue and a 4WD bushfire tanker from the ACT Rural Fire Service, as well as some items of Personal Protective Clothing (PPC) and hydraulic rescue tools. Personnel from ESA travelled to Port Vila in September 2016 to:

  • place the donated vehicles and equipment into service after being shipped from Australia
  • deliver training to the Vanuatu firefighters to ensure that they are competent to respond in and operate both vehicles and equipment
  • establish relationships with mechanical workshops in Port Vila to ensure that the vehicles can be serviced and repaired
  • establish relationships with the Vanuatu Fire Service, the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office and other local stakeholders, and
  • sign the MOU at a formal handover of the two appliances with representatives of the Vanuatu Government.

The shipping of the vehicles to Vanuatu and the travel by ESA officers was coordinated through PIEMA and the Pacific Community organisation (SPC) and was funded by the European Union. The negotiations to make all this happen was the culmination of a lot of hard work by recently retired Superintendent Greg Kent from ACT Fire & Rescue, Jill Edwards from AFAC and Mark Reid representing SPC.

Prior to this donation the firefighters in Port Vila, led by Chief Officer Bomma Avia, were in the unenviable position of not having a working major fire appliance in which to respond and fight fires. The capability of their Toyota Landcruiser light tanker with a crew of two and limited pumping capacity meant that their efforts to contain fires were often unsuccessful.

Station Officer Paul Thorpe (Fire & Rescue) and Technician Ben Pond (ESA Workshop) commissioned the vehicles and delivered 10 days of training. Both Paul and Ben were amazed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the Ni-Van firefighters, given the difficulties they face every day, for example the fire station still has significant damage from Cyclone Pam in 2015. Other challenges faced by Chief Officer Bomma include getting enough diesel fuel to operate the trucks so that training in driving and pump operations could be completed.

The official handover ceremony for the vehicles was held on 4 October including the signing of the MOU and the benefits of the new trucks and training were quickly realised, when a major fire occurred in Port Vila on Saturday 15 October.

Training in pump operations with the urban pumper.

Training in pump operations with the urban pumper.

The fire in the four story Air Vanuatu offices occurred at about 2.30 pm, starting from an electrical fault in an air conditioning unit and quickly spreading to a document storage room. The Vanuatu Fire Service quickly dispatched the Isuzu 4WD tanker and the Scania urban pumper and established a water relay to support firefighting operations.

While a large amount of smoke was produced during the firefighting operations, the fire was able to be contained to shelving and files, with no fire damage to the structure. Chief Officer Bomma reports that a large crowd of onlookers at the fire were very appreciative of the professionalism of the firefighters in getting their new vehicles to work.

The relationship between ESA and the Vanuatu Fire Service and Government will definitely be a two-way street. ESA hopes to use ongoing training and service exchanges as a professional development opportunity for its officers and we will learn a lot from the Ni-Van approach to achieving outcomes with limited resources. The Vanuatu Government and NDMO also have well-advances strategies in relation to climate change adaptation, which we hope can be translated to our operational environment in Canberra.

A key to building a strong relationship will be the identification of a liaison officer to coordinate activities between the parties. This will include the development of a forward plan including the donation of additional equipment, with additional PPC and breathing apparatus being the most needed, and the formulation and delivery of training programs, including incident management training.

The visit to Vanuatu by ESA personnel was very successful with extremely positive feedback being received from the Vanuatu Fire Service Chief Officer, the Vanuatu NDMO and SPC. But it was really only the first step in what be an ongoing relationship between the ESA in ACT and the Vanuatu Government.

For more information, go to www.esa.act.gov.au

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Mark Brown has held the position of Chief Officer ACT Fire & Rescue since July 2015. In this role he is responsible for service delivery, strategic and operational planning for Fire & Rescue, including interoperability with the other services within the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA). Mark was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal in 2009.