Relocation of appliances gives extra protection to towns

Extra support: Grass Valley Volunteer Bush Fire Service members Chris Marris, Gary Shepherdson and captain Angus Cooke with the crew's two appliances. Photo: Eliza Wynn.
Extra support: Grass Valley Volunteer Bush Fire Service members Chris Marris, Gary Shepherdson and captain Angus Cooke with the crew's two appliances. Photo: Eliza Wynn.

Following more than a decade of concerns by a local bush fire brigade that they did not have enough vehicles to keep the community safe, a Shire of Northam inquiry has awarded the group an additional appliance.

The Grass Valley Volunteer Bush Fire Service, which covers the largest geographic district in the Shire of Northam and turns out to the second highest number of incidents, was allocated a second truck last week.

With the assistance of volunteer firefighters from each bush fire brigade, Shire of Northam officers undertook and finalised the Resource to Risk (R2R) process over the past 18 months.

As a result of the R2R program, five fire vehicles were reallocated across the Shire, including the second unit for Grass Valley and the creation of the Northam Central Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades and the Wundowie Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades.

Grass Valley Volunteer Bush Fire Service captain Angus Cooke welcomed the additional truck, which he said was a long time coming.

"This is the third R2R and we're very happy about the result," he said.

"This means that our communities are better protected and we are in a better position to help the whole Shire.

"We've got the people to turn out to a fire but now we can actually send them out in an extra vehicle. We have a strong, active brigade and now they have the opportunity to be frontline firefighters."

Speaking to the Avon Valley and Wheatbelt Advocate in September last year, Grass Valley Volunteer Bush Fire Service secretary Chris Marris said the main driver for a second appliance was the large area the service covers.

"The Grass Valley Bush Fire Brigade covers 100,000 acres of land with geographical and physical barriers including the Mortlock River, the Golden Pipeline, the east-west railway and Great Eastern Highway - we can't simply be on both side of these barriers with just one appliance," he said.

"Every time we leave our district to support incidents in the west of the Shire and in other Shires, our local communities are left exposed with no fire appliance.

"This is further exacerbated by the fact that surrounding brigades may take an hour to turn out

"A lot can go wrong in one hour.

"At a number of incidents, including the major Grass Valley fire, the Grass Valley appliance has had to leave the fire unattended multiple times to refill water due to the delay in neighbouring brigades arriving on scene.

"Does the Shire believe this is an ideal situation?"

Shire of Northam chief executive Jason Whiteaker said officers had been liaising with brigades to get the reallocated appliances ready for the upcoming fire season and providing additional training.

"Volunteer fire fighters play a critical role in our community and it was important that each brigade was able to use their intimate knowledge of their districts to assist with the reallocation process," he said.

"Their input and contribution to this process is greatly appreciated and has enabled efficiencies to be identified and implemented, in addition to better managing the bush fire risks in our community."

Fire captain Mr Cooke said the new appliance would help the service enlist new members to the already 50-member strong team.

Shire of Northam community emergency services manager Brendon Rutter said as fire season was approaching the brigades were busy getting prepared with pre-season training, and supportive of new members coming on board.

"The Shire of Northam currently has nine volunteer bush fire brigades within the district, including the new Northam Central and the Wundowie Bush Fire Brigades," he said.

"I invite all members of the community to join their local brigades.

"The skills you learn as a volunteer and the friendships you make while providing a valuable service to your community will last a lifetime."

Anyone interested in getting involved in one of the bush fire brigades within the Shire of Northam is asked to contact Brendon Rutter on 9622 6137 or via cesm@northam.wa.gov.au.