14 August 2020

ACT RFS calls for fire tower operators ahead of upcoming bushfire season

| Dominic Giannini
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Bushfire tower

The ACT RFS is looking for bushfire tower operators ahead of the upcoming bushfire season. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

When pastry-chef turned firefighter Chris Condon got the call from his dad in early January that the Dunns Road fire had made a dash for their property in Adaminaby, he knew it was going to be a fire season like no other.

“With last year’s season, given the catastrophic drought this side of the country was experiencing, the land was primed for bad fires if we had the ignition sources given the water deprivation from the lack of rainfall over the years,” he said.

“These fire towers play a critical role in the early detection of the fires as was demonstrated with the Orroral Valley fire.”

Chris, who has been a firefighter for 17 years and fought in Canberra’s 2003 fires, Victoria’s Black Saturday in 2009 and in Canada in 2017, lauded how far fire preparation and detection had come over his years of firefighting.

As a senior rural liaison officer in the ACT after spending a decade with the Parks and Conservation Service, he knows all too well how vital the early detection of a fire is, having worked with landholders down near Tharwa, which came under threat from the Orroral Valley fire and was hit by ember attacks in February.

The Coree Fire Tower

The Coree Fire Tower provides a lookout over Tidbinbilla and the Brindabellas. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

“The Tennent fire tower operator very quickly picked up the smoke column from the fire and reported that through and we were very quickly able to determine that that was a fire inside the ACT,” he said.

READ ALSO 1000 more firefighting staff needed to combat future fire seasons, says union

“The operators were able to give us a running brief for a period of time about what that fire was doing and how quickly it was building, which gave us an idea of what we were dealing with.”

The four towers in the ACT – at Mount Tennent, Mount Coree, One Tree Hill and Kowen Forrest – can all link up to see each other, overlooking Tidbinbilla, Namadgi and the Brindabellas. Under the right circumstances, it is possible to get a very accurate depiction of a fire’s location and size with four operators providing a 360-degree view.

“On a clear day you can see the curvature of the earth on the horizon from the fire towers – the view is that great.”

View from a fire tower

Fire tower operators need to have a love of the bush and be able to spend long periods alone. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

And now the ACT RFS is looking for more recruits to be stationed in the towers ahead of the upcoming fire season.

“[We are looking for] anyone that has a keen interest in protecting the ACT and its community from the risk of bushfire as they are playing that pivotal role of early detection of fires in the landscape,” Chris said.

“Also, people who do not mind being in the bush and being on their own for long periods of time!”

Views from a fire tower

On a clear day, the view is uninhibited for dozens of kilometres. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

While the towers are not the most glamorous buildings, operators are responsible for the potentially life-saving role of early bushfire detection by monitoring fire and weather conditions, locating fires using a map and compass bearing and then relaying that information by radio.

READ ALSO ACT Fire & Rescue is calling for recruits, if you’re ready, willing and able

Operators will also be trained in basic wildfire awareness, first aid, four-wheel driving and communications.

“Their primary role will be fire tower operations, but when they are not in the towers they will be providing support to the RFS to undertake works we need assistance with, such as maintenance and support,” Chris said.

For more information, or to apply, visit Jobs ACT. Applications close 18 August.

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