The School of Fire and Emergency Services Training at Whyte Island in Brisbane, run by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, is the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, providing leading-edge training for emergency response personnel from across the State, Australia, and internationally. Asia Pacific Fire’s editor recently visited the facility and learnt first-hand from the facility’s director, Acting Chief Superintendent Roger Bird, how this training is delivered and how the Academy responds to an ever-growing number of emergency challenges.
The first thing you notice about the 5.6 hectare Whyte Island Academy is that it is located in one of Queensland’s high-fire-risk industrial locations; east of the State capital, Brisbane, Whyte Island is home to the city’s extensive Port of Brisbane facilities. What is not so immediately apparent is that, despite its appearance of being operated by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), since 1st July this year it switched to come under the banner of the State’s Public Safety Business Agency. More than that, the training offered at the facility is not limited to just fire and rescue professionals – it embraces all of the emergency services, including paramedic, police and the State Emergency Service (SES) personnel.
So much so, that the Academy is sub-divided into five separate commands. These are the core operational training command; the strategic training command; the volunteer emergency services training command; the emergency management training command; and finally the operation’s business command. Of these five commands, the volunteer emergency services training command and the emergency management training command are relatively new entities.
- Core Operational Training Command
This command is responsible for recruit firefighter training, the Academy’s firefighter and officer development programmes, auxiliary (part-time) firefighter development, and fire communications training.
- Strategic Training Command
Originally called the “specialist” command, this now embraces the Australian Inter-Service Management System incident management unit, executive development, and the Academy’s tactical training unit.
- Volunteer Emergency Services Training Command
In many ways, this command reflects the importance of the rural fire service and volunteer emergency services in the State. Queensland is the second-largest and third-most populous state in Australia, with a head-count approaching five million and covering an area of 1,852,642 km2. That is five times the size of Japan, seven times the size of Britain, and two-and-a-half times the size of Texas. There are currently around 35,000 rural firefighters and 6,000 SES volunteers – volunteers who respond to emergencies and disasters across the State.
Much of the work of this command takes place away from the Whyte Island site, within the seven regions across the State.
- Emergency Management Training Command
This command was established in response to the incidence of natural disasters experienced across the State, particularly cyclones in the tropical north and flooding across the State. Its workload embraces liaison with the QFES and local disaster management groups and is focused around disaster management legislation.
- Operations Business Command
This command effectively runs the Academy day-to-day.
The facilities at the Academy include an education centre that uses traditional classroom, video, online training techniques and website-based e-learning, enabling the Academy to outreach training to the State’s rural communities. This engagement with the emergency services community and the public is strengthened via the Academy’s website at www.sfrst.org, which contains a vast array of firefighting and emergency response training videos.
Other facilities include a live fire and rescue campus with simulated risk environments and props that include a ship interior, a service station, a gas processing plant, a collapsed building and an array of RTA and heavy vehicle accident scenarios. It also has a vertical rescue tower for rescue training and elevated hose operations, and incorporates a number of simulated industrial, commercial, retail and residential environments that can be reconfigured to expose those undergoing various levels of training with a wide variety of hands-on training to build on the lessons learnt in the classrooms.
In keeping with the Academy’s integrated approach to joint emergency services training, the site also has a simulation of a surgical operating theatre to ensure that trainees learn to appreciate the need for inter-agency teamwork. The Academy is heavily involved with AIIMS (Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System) incident management system for Australia’s fire and emergency service agencies, and works closely and shares information and experience with organisations such as AFAC (Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council) and Texas A & M University in the USA.
During the year, the Academy delivers around 33,000 training sessions – both on-site and off-site – around 70 percent of which is fire and emergency service related and 30 percent for commercial organisations mainly in the power generation, utilities and petrochemical sectors. The operation is JOIFF (an international organisation for industrial hazard management) accredited – in fact it is currently the only JOIFF accredited organisation in Australia. It is also uses the five-star accreditation by the National Safety Council of Australia (NSCA) and INSARAG (International Search & Rescue Group), a global network of more than 80 countries and organisations under the United Nations umbrella.
The training offered embraces every type of fire or emergency. In addition to the firefighting skills required for tackling structural, bushfire, high fuel load, military, marine and aviation fires, the Academy offers training in urban search and rescue (USAR), confined space rescue, special technique and technical rescues (such as collapsed trench, shoring techniques, water and rope rescue), the use of BA (breathing apparatus) equipment and thermal imaging cameras, road traffic accident extrication, hazmat (hazardous materials) operations, disaster response and the research and development of turn-out gear (PPE – personal protection equipment).
Significantly, much of this training is multi-agency, integrating firefighters with paramedics, the police and other emergency agency staff. This is delivered by 80 permanent staff (25 of which operate away from the Whyte Island site), 200 part-time staff and 30 seconded staff, and can last from just a single day to many months depending on the training being delivered.
The Academy is also at the forefront of firefighting, fire training methods and fire behaviour research, monitoring, analysing and assessing the performance of fire suppression materials, systems and techniques to better protect emergency personnel, those at risk in an emergency, the environment and property. This research facility also evaluates national and international search and rescue procedures and training methods as a prerequisite to developing ever more efficient, safe and effective USAR training programs and facilities.
This aspect of the Academy’s work has become more important in recent years with the advent of new construction materials, innovative building techniques and the adoption of fire engineering principles, together with the increase in urbanisation whereby industrial premises, retail developments and residential buildings are now often in closer proximity with each other.
The development and increasing use of plastics and other synthetic materials, and the increased storage and transportation of highly flammable materials, such as LNG (liquefied natural gas) and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), has led to the Academy to research the fire and smoke generation behaviour and toxicity of these substances. Similar research attention is also being given to the new high-performance materials that are being incorporated into new motor vehicles to ensure that the Academy’s training in the use of hydraulic extrication equipment and techniques is in line with these developments.
I am indebted to Chief Superintendent Roger Bird, Director of the School of Fire and Rescue Services Academy at Whyte Island and Superintendent Ricky May, Executive Manager of the Academy’s Strategic Training Command for their unstinting assistance with this article.
For further information, go to www.qfes.qld.gov.au