Trailblazers: Bendigo-based helicopters trial new firefighting strategy

CENTRAL Victoria firefighting is being taken to new heights, thanks to a trial involving co-ordinated responses from water bombing aircraft and ground crews.

Three firefighting weapons – including two water bombing aircrafts and another helicopter that acts as a scout – have set up home at the Bendigo Airport and are ready to respond to any fire threats in central Victoria.

In previous years ground crews have called in aerial firefighting resources after arriving on a scene and assessing the situation, but, as part of a new trial involving Bendigo, aerial water bombers are attending all grass and scrub fires in CFA District 2.

CFA Loddon Mallee operations manager regional commander Mike Wassing said the trial was a joint initiative by the CFA, DSE, fire service commissioner and the state aircraft unit.

He said anecdotal evidence suggested the combination of efficient ground and air firefighting response had already saved hundreds of thousands of dollars of property and farming land.

“Normally in our dispatch of aircraft we’ll have brigades responding to fires and then, depending on the circumstances, that’s when they’ll request an aircraft,” Mr Wassing said.

“The trial this year is that the air-based people and the pilots carry a pager.

“So we’ve got a defined area, District 2 – which is basically Gisborne to north of Bendigo – and for any fire in that area they automatically get the pager message and they automatically respond to the fire.”

Mr Wassing said the water bombing aircrafts – the Helitak 335 and a fixed-wing aircraft – did not “magically” put out fires but were helpful for accessing areas that were difficult for fire tankers to get to.

“Then the ground crews can mop up,” he said. “So it’s a real team effort.

“We’re not only fighting them from the ground, but we’re also fighting them from the air.

“The trial will go for the summer and then as part of the trial there’s a whole lot of assessment about how effective it was and that will go back into the melting pot at the state level.”

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