Skilled aerial firefighting crews are critical to saving lives

The long and unrelenting bushfire season throughout the country has brought into sharp focus the skills and courage of firefighters. Particularly in hard to access areas, the role of aviation resources such as large airtankers has proven to be critical.

Aviation resources offer three distinct capabilities in fighting bushfires: speed, access and observation over a wide area. Aircraft can be used by firefighting agencies to undertake a wide range of tasks including reconnaissance, command, firebombing, aerial ignition for back-burning and if required, gathering infrared imagery and taking aerial photographs.  Increasingly, aircraft are also being used to support a range of other emergencies such as floods and storms.

The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) was established in July 2003 to coordinate nationwide arrangements for sharing firefighting aircraft across the country during the fire season. The national fleet contains approximately 150 contracted fixed wing planes, helicopters and Large Air Tankers (LAT). These supplement state owned and contracted firefighting aircraft.

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has recently announced that further funds will be made available to ensure the national fleet is able to meet state and territory fire agency requirements. The number of large airtankers will increase with this injection of funds into the system.

Aviation resources used in responding to bushfires and other emergencies are highly specialised and often relatively expensive.  Richard Alder, General Manager at the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) said “It is critically important that Australia’s aviation resources are managed, supervised and supported to the highest standards”.

A recent review of fire and emergency aviation management and support roles commissioned by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) and the NAFC identified that the training framework required updating to reflect changes in legislation, best-practice and technical advances.

At the request of AFAC, the Public Safety Industry Refence Committee (IRC) prepared a Case for Change to develop and review 20 Units of Competency and 15 Skill Sets, relevant to aviation related roles and functions, in the Public Safety Training Package.

The project has been approved by the Australian Industry and Skills Commission (AISC). Specifically;

  • Seven existing Units of Competency will be reviewed, and 13 new Units of Competency will be developed
  • One existing Skill Set will be reviewed, and 14 new Skill Sets will be developed.

The development of nationally recognised training, delivered by RTOs, is fundamental to assuring the quality of training for aviation firefighting personnel. We rely on our firefighters to protect us. Therefore, we need to ensure they receive the training to be able to do this safely.

For more information on the project, view here.