We read continually about the firefighters, rescuers and civil defence people doing outstanding things on the front line protecting us from fire, typhoons, earthquakes etc. The press photos show rescuers risking their lives to save families and their belongings from the ravages of a disaster and when they return home, they are lauded for the work they did.
What I want to talk about in this editorial is the behind-the-scenes people supporting our front-line workers.
Many are not aware and surprised to know that for every person in the field there are a minimum of three people working tirelessly to support them.
Let me take a mythical front line of 400 firefighters each doing a 12-hour shift in the field and let me go through the support these people need and get.
Starting at the very beginning, leaving home to travel to the fireground. Before you have even left your house there has been a team selecting were you will be best deployed to and how you will get there. Your family/employer/brigade needs to make arrangements for the time you’re away.
Transport is arranged by the support team depending on where you are, and the firefighters will travel by bus, truck and/or plane to the staging grounds.
Now you have a large contingent waiting for deployment; they need feeding, accommodation, ablutions and washing. Just to organise accommodation that is comfortable and quiet (for maximum rest) requires tent cities to be set up, negotiation with local hotels, transfers between accommodation and the staging area. If the crews are hot bedding, cleaning between shifts becomes important.
The short exercise of getting the crews to the fire ground has involved hundreds of people. Now to look at how the equipment/trucks have been prepared. Each group of trucks requires mechanics to repair breakages (the fireground is an unforgiving place); fuel, spare parts and tyres are high on the priority list. They don’t just appear from anywhere, someone must manage this.
One of the largest logistic issues is feeding, its easy feeding the crews at the staging area although their shift requirements may require dinner to be served for breakfast. It’s getting all those meals and water to the crews in the field, all capable of moving location at short notice. I think I have made my point in the number of people needed just to support crews.
Now let’s look at the field logistics, there is no point fighting a fire without water. There will be a large team just finding water and directing crews to the source. Then moving pumps and fast-fill equipment to different watering sites as the fire front moves. You think filling and maintaining trucks is a chore, think about the support crews for aerial firefighting again finding water or large tankers filling with fire retardant at remote airfields. Refuelling, maintenance and crew turnover needs to be carried out to the strict requirements of the Civil Aviation Authorities.
All this depends on an effective and reliable communications network. There will be thousands of pieces of communications equipment in the field, used for any one of a hundred purposes that the comms teams have to keep operational. Most importantly, this is the safety pipeline for crews that are in trouble.
Now we move into the control rooms. It makes no difference if it’s a regional or headquarters room, they all have the same staff, just some have more than the other. There will be planning people looking at current and long-term needs; situation staff keeping everyone current on what is happening; the Bureau of Meteorology will be feeding current and long-term forecasting; fire scientists will be predicting fire travel in distance and speed; and the Incident Controller will be using this information to direct strike teams.
Then there is the community to keep informed and glean real-time information from. The media people will be passing on messages that could save live using as many formats as are available, at the same time informing politicians from local, state and federal levels on what is happening and organising briefings to feed the waiting press corps.
That leaves the police and support agencies (Red Cross, SES, Salvation Army, Ambulance, etc.) each with their tried and tested systems to assist during the event.
I know I have left people out that are supporting in such a disaster, and for this I am truly sorry. However, I salute you and all the unsung heroes supporting the front-line troops.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
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