Fatigue Factor for Interstate Firefighters

By AAP
July 16, 2020 Updated: July 16, 2020

South Australia withdrew its personnel from the bushfire fight in NSW because it had to ensure its firefighters back home were not too physically and mentally exhausted to battle its own fires, a royal commission has been told.

South Australia sent 2000 firefighters to help NSW and Queensland battle unprecedented bushfires in late 2019, in its biggest ever interstate deployment.

SA Country Fire Service deputy chief officer Andrew Stark said each time there was a deployment, the agency had to balance the interstate needs with its own capability as conditions deteriorated, while managing fatigue.

“When we chose to withdraw our support from the deployments to NSW, they were still active fires and many fires continued to break out of those, but we had to make that balance,” he told the natural disasters royal commission on Thursday.

“We knew that we were going to have significant fires, it was inevitable with the weather conditions we were facing.
“We knew that fatigue was going to be an issue.”

An independent review into South Australia’s bushfire season said interstate deployments resulted in organisational demand and had a cumulative impact on the availability of firefighters and key personnel when fires broke out in the state.

“It increased the demands on available firefighters and raised concerns about their welfare and fatigue management with some reporting that at times they felt physically and mentally exhausted,” said the report, which was released earlier this week.

One volunteer spent only seven nights at his home in five weeks, between interstate deployments and campaigns in South Australia.

The review said the experience was positive for many, who were proud to help their interstate colleagues.

Between 70 and 130 firefighters and incident management personnel were deployed at any one time from late September to late December.

The 2015-16 bushfire season was the last time South Australia sought firefighters from another jurisdiction to assist with its fires.

By Megan Neil in Melbourne