The Mirror News

Call to arms

Brigade asks for more volunteers

• Call to arms: Foster Fire Brigade’s first lieutenant James McIntyre and captain David Jones are calling on more volunteers to join their ranks.

FOSTER Fire Brigade captain David Jones is relieved a recent call out to fight a blaze at South Gippsland Hospital proved to be a false alarm.

With a paucity of volunteers, the potential disaster on the morning of Friday, July 27 was met with a feeling of trepidation. Despite this, the members – as they always do – rushed toward the apparent fire (with six appliances from local brigades attending). But, according to Mr Jones, he knew the volunteers would struggle to fight a fire of the magnitude they were expecting.

“We really appreciate community support, but what we really want is arms and legs,” Mr Jones said.

With just 20 active members – most of whom are well past middle age – Mr Jones said a real blaze at the hospital could see a tragically inadequate response.

He is now calling on people to join the brigade. People can become active fire fighters from the age of 16, while junior training can begin for children as young as 11. But neither is he dissuading older people from joining.

“We want people to come and help us. How would the South Gippsland community feel if the hospital was to burn down? That’s a ‘special risk’ as we classify in it in the fire brigade. It would impact on Gippsland, right across the board,” he said.

“When we got the call, everyone within the South Gippsland group of fire brigades knows that if we get called to a ‘special risk’ emergency – whether it be the hospital or Prom Country Aged Care – we know it’s the real deal.

“PCAC is hooked up to the sprinkler system, – so it’s actually a fire that sets the sprinklers off – but in the case of the South Gippsland Hospital the staff have to actually locate the fire and break a glass to trigger the alarm.

“That immediately comes through to our paging system and activates the Brigade. On the Friday in question, that happened. So, it was the real deal. Luckily for us, when we turned up we discovered it was a systems fault with the alarm. They were testing the alarm internally.”

Mr Jones said in total only six Foster Brigade firefighters turned up in response to the call (four initially, then two more sometime later). Crews from Fish Creek, Toora and Welshpool were on their way. Given that the CFA members from other towns would be required to leave work or family (hotfooting it to brigade vehicles, before making the trek to Foster), Mr Jones said their arrival would be 15 or 20 minutes later than the first respondents.

“In the initial attack you’re reliant on local crews. Does this community expect those four or six people to save their hospital?” he asked.

“I can assure you as a brigade captain that the members are highly-trained and they would do their best in any situation. But, to combat a fire and help with the evacuation of the people inside, would be too much.

“We operate on a policy of life then property, as any emergency service does. But you can’t expect four or six people to adequately respond to something like that. It puts pressure back on us as members of the community and members of the brigade.”

He said 18 or 20 personnel were needed in the first stages of fighting a major blaze.

“That’s what we really need. I won’t jeopardise the lives of my personnel to do something they can’t do. We’re human, we live locally, we want to do our utmost to assist. But the community needs to assist us with arms and legs,” he said.

If you are interested in joining the Foster Fire Brigade call captain David Jones on 0428 822 905 or first lieutenant James McIntyre on 0429 165 903.

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