Fighting wildfires is one of the most dangerous professions in the world but new ECU research may reduce firefighter injuries and fatalities whilst responding to large wildfires.
Dr Greg Penney, who is also a Senior Firefighter has recently completed his PhD in wildfire engineering at ECU. His research has examined how we can reduce the risk of injuries and death among firefighters responding to wildfires.
“Despite 242 formal inquiries and reviews into Australian natural disasters since 1927, and more than 62 international post-incident investigations following firefighter fatalities or injuries during wildfire entrapment and burnover, volunteer and career firefighters continue to be injured or killed in the line of duty in alarming numbers,” he said.
“Over the past 20 years nearly half of Australian first responder fatalities were firefighters and bushfire fighting has resulted in the highest number of injuries of all.
“Firefighting will always remain an incredibly dangerous occupation, but we need to re-examine how we prepare and respond to bushfires in order to keep our communities and our firefighters safe.”
Practical guide to save lives
Dr Penney has attempted to address the issues by developing a handbook to provide practical guidance to firefighters, incident management teams and urban planners.
“As a 14-year career firefighter who has worked in both metropolitan and country operations in Western Australia, I have not only lived in communities devastated by bushfires but have also been part of significant campaign bushfire operations as a firefighter,” he said.
“There are a number of ways to improve fire suppression operations, firefighter safety and resilient community design where development meets the bush.”
Dr Penney’s practical guide explores occupational safety in dynamic and high-risk environments, not only contributing models to improve wildfire suppression, but to provide guidance regarding the safety of high consequence operations at the rural urban interface.
His contribution to knowledge in occupational safety also extends to prevention, addressing improvements in urban design to not only improve the safety of responding firefighters, but to improve the resilience of communities from the impacts of wildfire internationally.
“The exposure to catastrophic bushfires will only increase as the effects of climate change continue to worsen.
“Bushfires continue to cause devastation around the world each year, with hundreds of houses and multiple of lives lost,” Dr Penney said.
“Climate change is ultimately resulting in longer and more severe bushfire seasons, while fire behaviour is also more difficult to suppress. Mega wildfires are a global problem that is unfortunately here to stay.”
A Handbook of Wildfire Engineering is available for download at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC website.
Article first published by Edith Cowan University