NEW wire rope barriers on the Calder Highway hindered fire brigades from accessing a fire in Ravenswood South in November, and forced fire trucks to block lanes of the highway.
It was one of a number of stories told to Fairfax Media by brigades based near the Calder between Bendigo and Kyneton, who have raised concerns about the barriers blocking access to fires and crashes.
The flexible wire rope barriers are being installed on 20 high-risk roads in Victoria at a cost of $450 million. It costs $2 million per kilometre to retrofit the barriers on complex roads.
But fire brigades are concerned about a lack of gaps in the barriers.
On November 6, crews were called to a fire in the middle of the Calder Highway near Hokins Road at Ravenswood South. The fire burnt over an acre.
Harcourt CFA captain Andrew Wilson said brigades encountered problems when they arrived at the scene.
“We couldn’t get the tanker in to where the fire was,” he said.
“We had to block the highway for the safety of our volunteers as there was no space to park the tankers in the middle of the highway.
“There wasn’t much of a delay in fighting the fire, but we were hindered.”
VicRoads has admitted it will now have to "retrofit" barriers along parts of the Calder.
The barriers, which consist of highly-tensioned wire rope supported by steel posts, are designed to avoid head-on and run-off crashes.
Firefighters and emergency service controllers support the need for the barriers, but say a lack of consultation with first-responders has resulted in serious oversights in its design.
VicRoads' Safe System Road Infrastructure Program director Bryan Sherritt said there must be a break in the barriers every 500 metres to one kilometre, to allow for emergency service access.
But Mr Sherritt admitted that in some areas the breaks were less frequent.
This has forced emergency services to travel extra kilometres before reaching their destination, significantly increasing response times.
Elphinstone fire brigade has been hampered by all six crashes it has attended in the past six months.
Captain Andy Chapman said the barriers were delaying brigades.
“We could be delayed up to five minutes," he said.
“That's a long time if you have someone in a car getting burnt ... it's too long."
In August, firefighters travelled 200 metres in the wrong direction to access a burning car off the Calder, near Elphinstone, to avoid a five-kilometre detour.
Acting Minister for Roads and Road Safety Philip Dalidakis said evidence showed that the barriers reduced the risk of head-on and run-off-road crashes by 85 per cent.
Concerns have also been raised about a possible increase in vehicle collisions with animals, and an increase in the severity of injuries to motorcyclists.