Fire truck pulled from City fleet

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser

The City of Albany has been forced to remove one of its heavy-duty trucks from its fleet indefinitely after the findings of the coronial inquest into the death of firefighter Wendy Bearfoot revealed the truck “disturbingly” had still not been fully upgraded or replaced five years on.

Coroner Sarah Linton found a combination of errors contributed to the death of the Department of Environment and Conservation firefighter and mother-of-three, who died after her fire truck was caught in the blaze at Black Cat Creek near Two Peoples Bay in October, 2012.

While Ms Linton made no formal recommendations in her findings, she said it was disturbing volun-teer firefighter David Wettenhall, who was involved in the catas-trophic fire, still had access to a vehicle which had not been upgra-ded.

She also urged the Department of Fire and Emergency Services to prioritise the upgrading of DFES fire appliances across the State urgently.

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“As I have noted, DFES still has some way to go completing upgrades to all of the fire appliances in the State, but they have prioritised the fleet managed by the City of Albany given what occurred during the Black Cat Creek fire, which hopefully gives some reassurance to the volunteer firefighters, although I note disturbingly that Mr Wettenhall, who was involved in the incident, still has access to a vehicle that has not been upgraded,” she said.

Following the release of the findings on Thursday, the City of Albany removed the heavy-duty truck indefinitely from the South Coast Volunteer Bushfire Brigade on Friday.

A major incident review after the blaze recommended that all vehicles entering a fire ground be fitted with fire blankets and in-cab radiant heat shields as a minimum requirement which was acted on by the City, DFES and Department of Parks and Wildlife.

During the inquest, City chief executive Andrew Sharpe said the City had responded to the Worksafe improvement notices by upgrading its entire fleet with fire blankets, radiant heat shields and lagging to critical vehicle components, to allow electrical components to operate during the course of a burn-over.

The City was prioritised by DFES to receive full-crew protection measures which included deluge systems to be installed on its 19 heavy-duty trucks supplied by DFES.

It was revealed on Friday the vehicle in question was one of three City-owned vehicles, not supplied by DFES or part of the planned upgrade of deluge systems.

At the time of the inquest in November, 15 of the 19 heavy-duty vehicles had been upgraded, with the final four set to be replaced in the next 12 months.

All DPaW heavy-duty fire trucks have been fitted with deluge systems.

In a statement, City manager of ranger and emergency services Tony Ward said the fire truck in question had been taken away from the South Coast Volunteer Bushfire Brigade.

“Following the release of the Coroner’s report the City has acted to ensure the greatest level of safety for its volunteer firefighters by removing the latter vehicle from service while alternative arrangements can be considered,” he said.

“The City will continue to work with DFES to find a suitable way forward prior to the next fire season.”

On release of the findings on Thursday, Mr Sharpe said the City had worked tirelessly to improve safety for its volunteer firefighters.

DFES has since fitted 337 appliances with deluge systems with 503 expected to be fitted by October 1.

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