The ACT Rural Fire Service (ACTRFS) is the lead agency to deliver services to protect and preserve life, property and the environment from fires in rural areas as directed in the Emergencies Act 2004.

The ACTRFS is managed by the Chief Officer and supported by volunteer members and salaried staff members who work together to deliver community-based fire services across ACT. ACTRFS has a close collaborative working relationship with ACTF&R, PCS, New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSWP&WS) in combatting fires in and around ACT rural areas.

The ESA provides secretariat support to the ACT Bushfire Council, which advises the Minister about matters relating to bushfires. This includes advice about the level of preparedness; prevention activities; the response capability of fire services; and the implementation of recommendations from the inquiries into major bushfire events.

On behalf of the ACT Government, the ESA coordinates the implementation of the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan (SBMP), which is the overarching framework that directs all levels of bushfire planning in the ACT. It provides a strategic framework to protect the ACT community from bushfires and reduce resulting harm to the physical, social, cultural and economic environment of the Territory. More information about the SBMP is available in the Bushfire Management section of this report.

Service Delivery

The La Nina weather event influenced favourable weather conditions over the 2020-21 Bushfire Season. This provided members of the Service with some well-deserved respite after their enormous efforts during the 2019-20 Bushfire Season.

In 2020-21, the ACTRFS responded to 173 incidents involving 1,146 volunteer responses.

Table 34 - ACTRFS Operational Activity in 2020-21

Operational activity

2019-20

2020 -21

Incident Type

Incidents

Responses

Incidents

Responses

Grass and Bush Fires

88

658

21

44

Smoke Investigations

8

17

3

17

Vehicle Fire

26

34

20

19

Motor Vehicle Accident

2

2

5

7

Storm/Flood (Assisting ACTSES)

28

8

25

33

Structure Fires

5

20

4

3

Hazard Reductions

27

123

48

409

Other Fires/Incidents

126

675

47

614

Total Incidents

310

1 537

173

1 146

 

Capability

The ACTRFS workforce comprises 501 volunteers supported by 28 paid staff. The total membership (paid and volunteer) includes 117 females and 412 males. The ACTRFS fosters a safe working culture, actively promotes a diverse, flexible and adaptive membership, and values and appropriately recognises the contribution of its members, both volunteers and paid staff.

The ACTRFS received 205 expressions of interest to join in 2020-21. There were 57 new volunteer members recruited after completing a staged recruitment process. Member numbers are expected to increase further in 2021-22 following the rollout of the flexible membership model that offers a range of volunteering opportunities for those who would like to contribute to the service but who may not wish to undertake active firefighter duties. The flexible membership model has allowed the service to retain the valuable skills and experience of our existing, longer-term members who have wanted to transition out of active firefighting but remain dynamically engaged as volunteers.

Figure 21 - Image of new ACTRFS recruits

Figure 21 - Image of new ACTRFS recruits

Figure 22 - Image of ACTRFS recruits

Figure 22 - Image of ACTRFS recruits

Figure 23a and 23b - Image of ACTRFS presenting their capabilities at an ‘Information Day’

Figure 23a - Image of ACTRFS presenting their capabilities at an ‘Information Day’

At the ACTRFS Information Day, members of the public attended presentations about the service and its membership categories. Existing ACTRFS members shared their own personal stories and experiences volunteering with the service.

Twelve ACTRFS volunteers and six staff participated in the Pilot Emergency Response Driving program, where they gained the skills and driving techniques to enable them to minimise risk when driving to an incident or emergency with lights and sirens.

Figure 24 - Image of several ACTRFS Volunteer Members after participating in the Convoy to raise awareness and support for families living with cancer

Table 35 - ACTRFS Staffing Profile

Members

All

Male

Female

Volunteers

501

396

105

Headquarters Staff (including the CO)

28

16

12

Total

529

412

117

ACTRFS responds to incidents from eight volunteer brigades (Guises Creek, Gungahlin, Hall, Jerrabomberra, Molonglo, Rivers, Southern and Tidbinbilla). The ACT PCS within EPSDD has seven depots across the Territory. The Fire Management Unit within PCS is constituted as the Parks Brigade by determination under Section 54 of the Emergencies Act 2004, and the PCS staff comprise the brigade members.

More details about the ACTRFS capabilities, including equipment and aviation capabilities, is detailed in the Bushfire Risk Management section of this Annual Report.

During 2020-21, the ACTRFS participated in a trial of ground sensing cameras to improve detection and monitoring of bushfires. The cameras were placed on the fire towers and operated 24/7. The data from this trial will assess the viability of automated monitoring for early bushfire detection on a national scale.

Figure 25a and Figure 25b - Image of outside and inside a Fire Tower

Figure 25a- Image of outside and inside a Fire Tower Figure 25b - Image of outside and inside a Fire Tower

In 2020-21, ACTRFS volunteers and staff attended a multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT) training course providing them the skill sets to participate in Level 2 multi-agency IMTs. The training focuses on organisational requirements of IMTs and their role in combating bush fire emergencies as well as other incidents the RFS may be required to manage. Level 2 IMT courses are function specific. They provide all the required skills and knowledge to work in and lead a functional cell within an IMT. Level 2 courses are provided for the functions of Control, Operations, Logistics, Planning, Intelligence, and Public Liaison. This training enables the RFS to reduce its historical dependency on external resources to manage IMT functions for incidents where RFS is the lead agency.

Preparedness

Under Section 119 of the Emergencies Act 2004, the ACT bushfire season commences on 1 October and runs through until 31 March of the following year. The ESA Commissioner may declare a different date to be the beginning or end of a particular bushfire season if weather conditions warrant. Before making the decision, the ESA Commissioner must consult the ACT Bushfire Council. In 2020-21, favourable weather conditions delayed the start of the season until 1 November 2020. The season ended on 31 March 2021.

Implementation of the Farm FireWise Plans

A key prevention and mitigation initiative overseen by the ACTRFS is the Farm FireWise program. This Program continued across the Territory in 2020-21, engaging landholders in developing bushfire mitigation and response measures as part of their lease agreements. More information is available in the Bushfire Risk Management section of this report.

Implementation of Bushfire Operational Plans

The ACT has taken a whole of government approach to completing Bushfire Operational Plan (BOP) activities to reduce bushfire fuel loads by conducting large area prescribed burns, asset protection activities and providing an extensive fire trail access network. More information is available in the Bushfire Risk Management section of this report.

Operate in Remote Environments (ORE)

Staff from ACTRFS participated in training to Operate in Remote Environments, which is an NSWRFS qualification that provides members with the level of competency needed to navigate and safely operate well away from any ground-based support. The training is designed to take a member with existing advanced bush firefighting knowledge and skills and enable them to hike considerable distances through remote and trackless areas with appropriate equipment as part of a self-sustaining or air supported team.

Given the relatively quiet bushfire season, ACTRFS conducted a multi-brigade field exercise ‘Operation Kowen’ at Kowen Forest on Saturday 18 April 2021. This training activity was supported as a way to improve and encourage member participation.