18 November 2020

Five-day bootcamp prepares forestry firefighters for season ahead

| Edwina Mason
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Aerial view of socially distant Forestry Corporation firefighters at Laurel Hill bootcamp.

Socially distant Forestry Corporation of NSW firefighters at the week-long bootcamp held recently at Laurel Hill, near Tumbarumba. Photo: Forestry Corporation of NSW.

It was a bootcamp of a very different nature as Forestry Corporation of NSW firefighting staff recently honed their skills at a five-day training camp near Tumbarumba in preparation for the bushfire season ahead.

The five-day intensive training program at Laurel Hill – scene of the horrific Dunns Road fire last summer – was designed to get new recruits nationally qualified and fire-ready as forest firefighters, but also involved other more experienced firefighting staff who upgraded their qualifications in advanced firefighter and crew leader roles.

All up, 44 staff from the Tumut, Moss Vale, Deniliquin, Bombala, Bathurst and Central Cypress forest protection areas took part in the program which involved training in essential fire skills including fire behaviour, tactics and strategy, leadership, command, control and communications, and how to operate the range of appliances and equipment used at fires.

Forestry Corporation of NSW’s fire manager Tim McGuffog said the camps were essential for developing a skilled and capable workforce for the bushfire season ahead.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic added more complexity to this year’s training, the organisation has adapted and adjusted.

“2020 has thrown a few challenges to our face-to-face training camps, but we have changed our approach to make it work,” said Mr McGuffog.

Forestry Corporation workers at bootcamp.

Around 44 Forestry Corporation of NSW workers from all over the state were put through their paces during the week-long boot camp at Laurel Hill. Photo: Forestry Corporation of NSW.

“One of the key ways we’ve adapted is to run a ‘closed camp’ in 2020, meaning no-one comes or leaves during the week-long training.”

A series of personal distancing and hygiene measures were also implemented to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

Mr McGuffog said the Forestry Corporation of NSW training program was comprehensive, and recruits also had the opportunity to learn other skills – such as using chainsaws, first-aid, chemical use and driving 4WD vehicles and tankers – to use when they return to their depot.

“Safety is always at the top of this list – our firefighters’ wellbeing is our biggest concern and it all comes back to correct training and procedures,” he said.

“We take our firefighting responsibilities incredibly seriously. Our training ensures everyone from our most experienced firefighter through to our newest recruits are fit and ready to be deployed to the fire front.

“We also send crews to assist on large bushfires across all tenures within their local areas, interstate and even internationally so we need to ensure we are at the top of our game.”

Forestry Corporation is responsible for preventing and managing fires in two million hectares of state forests across NSW.

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