RFS crews swarmed Spring Ridge yesterday after a helicopter crashed, a locomotive caught fire and a hazardous spill that threatened to evacuate the tiny town unfolded – but luckily it was all in the name of training.
More than 100 volunteers from the Rural Fire Service (RFS), SES and Volunteer Rescue Association (VRA), as well as staff from the Australian Rail Track Corporation, were on hand for the day-long Range X operation, which put skills to the test.
Incident controller and organiser Owen Tydd told The Leader crews had to tackle nine emergencies.
“We had a simulated locomotive fire with rail staff and two fair-dinkum locomotives,” he said.
“We actually had one not too long ago at Ardglen, when one of the locomotives caught fire at the top of the mountain.”
The training events are designed to enable volunteers to tackle any emergency that can unfold in rural areas and show firefighting isn’t the only job description for the RFS.
Mr Tydd said crews and control staff needed continual training in the intricacies of combating unusual types of firefighting events.
“There was a helicopter crash out west that hit powerlines while doing spraying operations,” he said.
“Then the VRA were out with the volunteers at the quarry to fight the fire in the car that had crashed. The VRA were rescuing the driver and were demonstrating how we can best assist them.”
Also on the cards for volunteers was sandbagging to protect homes from flooding, and an Incitec incident where a simulated anhydrous ammonia spill, which would have forced the evacuation of Spring Ridge and surrounding properties, was being played out.
“Then the AED incident, which is like a heart attack victim; very few people have training in that, so we have simulated one,” Mr Tydd said.
“There was also a simulated ‘flame-over’ in the nearby forest; the controllers will pull them up before they have two minutes before they can expect flames coming over. They get the crew to get on the ground with a fire blanket over them and have the overhead sprays going over the truck.”
On hand were volunteers from as far away as Cudegong near Mudgee, Gunnedah, Ellerston, Cassilis, Wingen, Gundy, Coonabarabran, Liverpool Range and Tamworth.
Fifty-seven volunteers took part in the exercises, while 40 more were on the ground to run the show.
“Expect the unexpected” was the name of the training game as radios went down – although, according to organisers, it wasn’t planned.
“I don’t think I have ever been to a fire where everything has gone to plan,” Mr Tydd said.
The training exercise is an annual event. It’s destined for Merriwa next year, but it takes about 12 months of planning to get the show on the road.
“It’s all about ensuring we know exactly what to do,” Mr Tydd said.
“We’ve all got different backgrounds, we’ve all got different talents.”