Firefighting and employment
To find out about getting a job as a firefighter, see employment.
Firefighting methods in the bush
As water is often scarce in forest areas, and fires regularly burn in difficult to access terrain, a number of firefighting methods are required. These methods have been used, tested and refined over many years, building on firefighter experiences.
One of these methods is called 'dry firefighting'. As the name suggests, it combats fire without relying upon the use of water. Fire spread is stopped by removing fuels that intensify the fire, by:
- Making control lines or firebreaks: using machinery or hand tools, firefighters clear fuels such as leaves and shrubs – and sometimes trees – from a strip of ground ahead of the flames. The cleared ground halts the spread of the fire
- Backburning: when direct attacks on a fire cannot halt its spread, firefighters may 'backburn'. This involves constructing a road, track or other cleared section of ground around the bushfire. Firefighters then light fires along the cleared area, and the fires burn back towards the bushfire, reducing the fuels as they go. This slows the acceleration of the bushfire.
DEPI also uses 'wet firefighting', where firefighting personnel use tankers and aircraft to drop water or fire retardant on and ahead of flames.
How fires spread
Bushfires spread as the flames heat up and ignite nearby unburnt fuels. Flames spread faster:
- the stronger the wind that fans them
- the drier the fuels in which they burn
- the steeper the slope up which they burn
- the more that hot air, heated by the flames, rises above them into the atmosphere.
When a bushfire is burning, the wind often picks up and carries pieces of burning bark, or other burning material, across a control line or backburn. New fires, called 'spotfires', then start on the other side, even several kilometres away.
Firefighters must keep looking out for spotfires, even many weeks after firefighters first contain the initial bushfire.
Fire crews always try to get to a bushfire fast. This is known as 'first attack'. The aim of first attack is to stop a small fire from escalating to bushfire that is large and difficult to contain.
First attack on fires in parts of Victoria can be difficult. Much of the state's parks and forests feature steep, heavily forested terrain, and fires are often start a long way away from roads.
Despite these challenges, on average, firefighters extinguish more than 80 per cent of fires while they are still smaller than five hectares.
Of the total area burnt by fires each year, only ten per cent is burnt by fires smaller than five hectares.
DEPI's firefighters contribute not just to firefighting but also to other tasks of managing land, bushfire risk and environmental impacts across Victoria's parks, forests and other public land.
About 1,000 DEPI staff contribute to firefighting. The number can increase substantially during bushfire prevention and response periods. Nearly 2,000 additional staff, including those from partner agencies, are trained to perform firefighting and support roles.
DEPI's firefighters are fit, skilled, accredited and experienced. They include rappel teams and hover exit crews, who are specially trained to be dropped into remote locations by helicopter. DEPI's fire personnel also includes project firefighters, fire planners, fire behaviour and risk analysts and operational staff. See firefighting employment.
DEPI's resources include:
- equipment designed for bushfires and an extensive fleet of firefighting vehicles and plant, including four-wheel-drive 'slip-on' units (light tankers), water tankers and bulldozers. DEPI also hires plant from contractors. See external plant web portal
- the use of an aircraft fleet that supports on-ground firefighters. Firefighters use helicopters and fixed-wing planes for detecting and watching fires and transporting firefighters. They also use aircraft for 'firebombing' – which means putting water and fire retardant on fires. See State Aircraft Unit
- equipment and technology, such as infrared linescan, global positioning systems (GPS) and thermal imaging, that show firefighters where the fire is and what it is doing, even through smoke and in the dark. See State Aircraft Unit
- mobile equipment and supplies to meet firefighting and personal needs. At short notice support crews can feed hundreds of firefighters let them camp for many weeks away from towns and cities. The aim is to keep firefighters as healthy, rested and healthy as possible.