Under the Emergencies Act 2004, ACT Fire & Rescue (ACTF&R) is responsible for fire response in the built-up area, rescue (road accident, vertical, confined space, trench, urban search and rescue, as well as animal rescue), and hazardous material incidents across the Territory. ACTF&R also performs emergency medical response in support of ACTAS. ACTF&R delivers 24/7 services from nine stations and the ESA ComCen, its Specialised Operations Section, the ESA Training Centre and the ESA Headquarters. ACTF&R also facilitates and manages the Community Fire Unit (CFU) program, which consists of 58 units located on the urban bushland interface and consists of approximately 776 volunteers. CFU volunteers are residents of key areas who are trained and equipped by ACTF&R to prepare and protect their properties in the event of bushfires, increasing the capability of fire crews deployed by ACTF&R and the ACTRFS.

Service Delivery

In 2020-21, ACTF&R managed 11 039 incidents involving 22 212 responses by operational crews. Details of ACTF&R 2020 - 21 operational activity is provided in the table below.

Table 33 - ACTF&R Operational Activity, 2020-21

Operational activity

2019-20

2020-21

Incident Type

Incidents

Responses

Incidents

Responses

Fires

 

 

 

 

Structure Fires

223

1 189

251

1 528

Mobile Property Fires

242

439

204

345

Landscape Fires, Bush and Grass

198

542

126

252

Other Fires

241

611

158

340

Total Fires

904

2 781

739

2 465

Other Emergencies and Incidents

 

 

 

 

Hazardous Conditions

350

775

388

871

Severe Weather and Natural Disasters

431

485

523

564

System Initiated FALSE Alarms

5 825

11 709

5 813

11 756

Other

1 642

2 528

1 654

2 483

Total Other Emergencies and Incidents

8 248

15 497

8 378

15 674

Non-fire Rescue Calls
(Including Road Rescue)

 

 

 

 

Road Accident Rescue Operations

1 000

2 516

1 238

3 141

Medical Assists

412

585

446

611

Other Rescue
(Includes Animal Rescue)

209

264

238

321

Total Non-fire Rescue Calls
(Including Road Rescue)

1 621

3 365

1 922

4 073

Total Operational Activity

10 773

21 643

11 039

22 212

Capability

ACTF&R capability includes its frontline firefighters, its specialist capabilities and equipment, and the CFU volunteers.

Training and Development

In 2020-21 ACTF&R Training and Development completed two community-based firefighter recruit colleges totalling 36 staff. These colleges are part of the ACT Government commitment to recruit an additional 99 firefighters over a five-year period commencing in 2020.

In 2020-21, two Station Officer Development programs were conducted resulting in the promotion of twenty Senior Fire-fighters to the rank of Station Officer. Two Commander Development programs were also conducted resulting in the promotion of six Station Officers to the rank of Commander.

Recent recruitment activity has resulted in the ongoing need to deliver career progression and development programs. In 2020-21, career development programs were delivered to eligible staff as part of structured and optional career development pathways. Staff access to these programs will ensure ACTF&R continues to meet individual and organisational needs whilst also meeting community expectations on the service we provide.

Specialised training to external agencies was also delivered throughout the 2020-21 financial year to agencies and organisations such as the AFP, ACT Corrections and ACT utility providers. The training provided included Breathing Apparatus, Fully Encapsulated Chemical Suits and agency specific awareness and capability information sessions.

In 2021, Training and Development conducted a multi-agency emergency exercise to consolidate learning outcomes and test organisational capability and interoperability with support services.
The exercise centred around a 4.2 magnitude earthquake to the ACT and involved three separate scenarios designed to test all facets of response to such an incident. The scenario’s included structural collapse, road crash rescue and structural fire, centred around drills designed to consolidate the skills acquired in recruit college with all supporting stakeholders to ensure training objectives and outcomes were met.

ACTF&R now has 18 qualified Peer Support Officers delivering essential support services to their colleagues whenever they are needed. This contributes to the ESA's commitment to ensure ongoing effort for the mental health and wellbeing of its firefighters.

Specialised Operations

Specialised Operations manages ACTF&R’s breathing apparatus, firefighting, rescue and salvage equipment, support vehicles and trailers including Platforms on Demand (PODs), decontamination trailers and a human-driven or remote-controlled Bobcat. The Specialist Operations Section manages, tracks, services and repairs these assets and provides the ongoing evaluation and improvements to ensure ACTF&R remain equipped, trained and able to respond to any incident quickly and safely with the most appropriate equipment available.

ACTF&R specialist staff monitor the current hazardous material threat profile, develop long-term strategies and ensure they are highly proficient in a broad range of firefighting, rescue and specialist disciplines. ACTF&R specialist capabilities include Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS) firefighting technology as well as Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) techniques and capability.

In 2020-21, Specialised Operations undertook a comprehensive analysis of the hazardous materials (HAZMAT) and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) capabilities. This has resulted in a major upgrade to the ACTF&R Hazmat/CBRN inventory with the procurement of new detection and identification equipment.

Community Fire Units (CFUs)

CFUs are an ACTF&R equipped and trained volunteer network comprised of residents from suburbs assessed as having a higher risk of bushfire threat. These suburbs are predominantly located on the urban fringe of suburban Canberra.

The ESA continues to recognise volunteers in the community as a significant resource. ACTF&R CFU volunteers utilise preventative and defensive strategies, while utilising basic firefighting equipment (pumps, hoses, and protective clothing) to prepare and prevent a bushfire from spreading from adjoining bushland to their houses and identified neighbourhood during a bushfire until fire services arrive.

In 2020, although face-to-face training was impacted by the pandemic, 19 new members were trained to help identified CFU units where membership was low. As of 30 June 2021, the CFU volunteer cohort totalled at 776 members across 58 units.

ACTF&R CFU volunteers assisted the ESA with a number of community education and engagement activities to help build community resilience over the 2020-21 period including:

  • Participation in Open Days promoting Community engagement initiatives
  • Be Emergency Ready pop-up stalls
  • COVID and mask awareness pop-up stalls
  • CFU virtual appreciation day
  • COVID compliance call centre

Community Safety Activities

Building Regulation and Compliance

The Building Regulation and Compliance area has a focus on Fire Safety in the built environment and is committed to providing a safer community by working collaboratively with Developers, Builders and Designers.

The services provided to the building industry include technical advice, assessment and consultancy to the building and fire safety sectors along with guidance to regulatory authorities and government agencies. This ensures that the fire safety systems and measures are adequate and proportionate to the identified risks while complying with regulatory and legislative obligations.

ACTF&R ensures the fire safety provisions in new and existing buildings are correctly installed and maintained. This is achieved through a process of engagement and communication ensuring that operational requirements are met while minimising the potential consequences of fires and other emergencies.

ACTF&R Risk and Planning

ACTF&R Risk and Planning (R&P) builds community resilience and provides fire safety outcomes to the ACT from a pre-incident planning and preparation perspective. It achieves this in close partnership with the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) and other government agencies to provide oversight and commentary on new developments in the ACT, from new subdivisions to new residential developments.

Providing planning advice in areas such as bush fire protection, water supplies, emergency management, access, construction standards and modified landscapes for asset protection purposes, R&P supports agencies such as the Transport Canberra and City Services Directorate (TCCS) Waste Regulation team
in the monitoring and compliance of waste facilities and Events ACT in the operational planning of large events in the ACT. R&P also performs a regulatory roll in the management of fire through the issuing of fire permits and the inspection of fire hazards and where necessary directions to remove the unsafe storage of flammable material on premises.

ACTFR work

Fire Investigation

ACTF&R Fire Investigation team provides an investigative and research service aiming to determine fire cause and origin. The goal from a fire service perspective is to identify fire risks within structural components and examine whether the fire prevention, detection and suppression systems were effective. As subject matter experts ACTF&R investigators assist Australian Federal Police Forensics and the Specialist operations team when requested.

ACTF&R fire investigation activities for the financial year 2020-21 included investigations into 14 level 2 incidents and six Significant Level incidents, involving more than $500 000 in damage.

2020-21 Highlights

Highlights for ACTF&R during the reporting period include:

  • recruitment and training of 36 additional staff to enhance Operations staffing numbers
  • promotion of five Station Officers to the rank of Commander and 20 firefighters were promoted to Station Officer to fill vacancies arising from the retirement of senior personnel in 2020-21
  • four replacement pumpers have been ordered including one electric vehicle pumper.
  • new Structural Firefighting clothing was selected and ordered for all staff
  • three additional fire pumpers had been ordered for front line operations
  • new vertical rescue equipment that provides the latest technology and improves the safety of firefighters undertaking vertical rescues
  • a rebuild of ACTF&R USAR PODs to facilitate safer and easier methods for staff to store, service and maintain, deploy and utilise the USAR equipment
  • delivery of new detectors to provide ACTF&R with a new capability to detect and identify chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, mercury and radiological contaminants.  Work continues to keep up with the rapidly changing environment in hazardous materials
  • replacement of fully encapsulated suits that had reached end-of-life, with a combination of single-use and reusable suits, and
  • replacement of the aged SE400 respirators with 30 new 3M/Scott Safety C420 Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR).