Training as one to fight fires at night

7 December 2020

Firebombing helicopters undertook a night operations training exercise in the Woori Yallock, Don Valley area last week, testing airbase coordination and logistics skills between aircraft and ground crews.

The surrounding hills and trees were the perfect setting to begin the fourth yearly Night Fire Aviation Program (External link), where firebombing helicopters practiced fighting fires at night.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said this year’s program has a new focus on airborne firefighting capabilities.

“Last fire season our helicopters couldn’t work on a fire at night unless they’d flown on that fire during the day. This was so they’d have familiarity of the area.

“This year we’re working on fires at night without a daytime fly-over, and we’ll hopefully get to a point in four to six weeks’ time where we’ll be able to confidently do that,” said Mr Crisp.

While aircraft crews practiced their night firebombing skills under the watchful eye of Air Attack Supervisors, Country Fire Authority (CFA) ground crews studied firebombing capabilities and put their recent training into practice, communicating with the aircraft using radio calls and terminology. 

“Our focus this year is to get our head back in the game and make sure we operate safely, “said Project Manager Nick Ryan.

“These types of exercises are vital for air and ground crews to get used to communicating so that in a real operation, it’s as smooth and as safe as it can be.”

“With multiple fire agencies, three aircraft companies and international crews involved in our night program, crews are doubling their efforts to constantly refine procedures and practice good communication.”

Personnel from CFA, Victoria State Emergency Service, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Parks Victoria and EMV assisted in the exercise, along with Wesburn Sports Ground where the aircraft were based for refuelling and crew changes.

Mr Crisp said the training exercise also provided useful intelligence back to Incident Controllers so they can better plan what the ground crews will do the next day.

“The night fire aviation program is still a relatively new program for Victoria. Every year, we further develop our skills and knowledge to ensure our night operations are safe and effective. This is about keeping our communities safe,” he said.

“This year, we are working toward crews not needing to complete reconnaissance flights or work on fires during the afternoon before first attack on new fires at night. First attack on fires at night by aircraft will increase our capability to keep communities safe.”