Fires, Floods and Extreme Weather

2010 was Victoria’s wettest year since 1974 and the fifth wettest year on record.

The majority of rain fell in the latter half of the year, resulting in significant flooding through much of the State in September 2010 and January 2011. While Victoria’s temperature was close to the long-term average, there were only two total fire ban days compared with 11 and 18 for the previous two seasons.

During 2010-11, CFA brigades attended slightly fewer incidents than in any of the previous five years. The 2010- 11 summer season was characterised by significantly
fewer bushfires compared with previous seasons. However, this was replaced by a significant response to floods and CFA members welcomed the opportunity to
work alongside SES in flood response activities.

Brigade leadership

Brigades provided solid leadership to their communities. That leadership is based on their sound training and the harnessing of local volunteer and community knowledge
gained, in some cases, over generations. Our volunteers had the capacity to organise, coordinate and make, or support, some hard but well-informed decisions, relying
on local resources to carry out those decisions.

“This flood event was a real kick in the guts for Loddon Mallee people,” said Eric Collier, a member of a District 8 strike team. “Participating in this strike team was a positive way District 8 personnel could help our fellow Victorians and show them our support. Our strike team was deployed on Australia Day, and I couldn’t think of a better way for us to demonstrate what the Australian spirit is all about.”

Saving lives

Experiences varied from the heroic to the everyday. Ballan members saved the life of a 14-year-old boy who was trapped in a culvert of rising water. Evacuations were carried
out using firetrucks in towns such as Charlton and Rochester.

“One brigade member was nearly swept away while rescuing people,” said Rochester Captain Mick Hassell. “After that, brigade members tied themselves to the tanker
so they could safely rescue others who were also in danger of being swept away.

“On 17 January the water was receding and we were on the truck delivering bread, milk and water to isolated homes.”

The January floods left 206 vehicles in the firefighting fleet water damaged and needing 930 labour hours of attention by district mechanical officers. The material cost for inspection and repairs for January alone was $33,000.

Partnerships and personal relations between the emergency management agencies and Victoria Police are essential in the fast start-up of a cohesive joint operational team. CFA and DSE are accustomed to managing joint incident management teams, and that has evolved because we have deliberately strengthened our partnership in recent years. The floods gave us the opportunity to learn more about SES procedures.

The interim report of the Victorian Floods Review was to be handed down in July 2011 with the final report due in December 2011.