February is a time of reflection for many in the fire and emergency management sector, with the anniversaries of several major campaign fires – including Black Saturday in 2009 – that claimed the lives of members of our community as well as personnel from both Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) and its predecessors and from our partner agencies.

I will attend the 40th Anniversary of Ash Wednesday memorial service at Cockatoo on Sunday 12 February. The service will be a time to remember those CFA members who died while trying to protect their communities from the fires as well as local community members who were killed in the bushfires that culminated on 16 February 1983.

The Ash Wednesday fires destroyed more than 2,000 homes and another 800 or so buildings in Victoria while many businesses, stores, equipment, machinery, stock, and other private assets were also lost. The total cost of the property-related damage in Victoria was estimated to be over $200 million.

We are all aware of the dangers that fighting fires can bring, and I am incredibly proud of the dedication and professionalism of our FFMVic crews, who regularly face many hazards on fire grounds.

The safety of our crews is a priority as it is for all our partner agencies and these tragedies bring into focus the realities and harshness of the environment in which we work. It is important we all continue looking after ourselves and our workmates.

While the number of bushfires our crews have attended to date this financial year is well down on the 30-year average, it is not a time to be complacent. During the last week of January, we responded to nearly 50 new fires, many of which have been grassfires.

FFMVic is currently in full operational planning mode for the peak of our fuel management program of late summer and autumn. The conditions over summer have allowed our crews to conduct a small number of planned burns and we will continue to take every opportunity to reduce fuel loads through planned burning whenever we can – as we do all year round.

We have continued our mechanical treatments in areas not suitable for planned burns and continue to build and upgrade strategic fuel breaks.

It is always very pleasing to see a positive outcome of these works. A recent header fire near the Annuello Flora and Fauna Reserve in the Mallee demonstrated the importance of strategic fuel breaks.

The reserve is the home of the endangered Mallee fowl and thanks to the strategic fuel break we renewed last year the birds were protected from the threat of the fire. Protecting the birds was all the more important as they were sitting on eggs. Read more here.

I would like to thank all the emergency sector personnel, including FFMVic staff, who have been deployed to Western Australia to support their emergency agencies with the flood response in the Kimberley region. The experience agencies gained while deployed to last year’s flood event here in Victoria have put them in good stead to support the WA agencies and the affected communities. It’s great to be in a position to return the favour extended to Victoria by WA during our hour of need!

And finally, I would like to congratulate those FFMVic staff from Hume region who were recently presented with their National Medals and associated clasps.

63 medal recipients were recognised for their dedicated service of between 15 and 45 years to firefighting and community safety including 3 staff who have worked for the organisation for 45 years.

Take care,

Chris Hardman
Chief Fire Officer, Forest Fire Management Victoria