Volunteer firey’s invention wins State innovation grant

Albany Advertiser
Volunteer firefighter Chris Probert with a BurnOver Protection Unit prototype in 2015.
Camera IconVolunteer firefighter Chris Probert with a BurnOver Protection Unit prototype in 2015. Credit: Laurie Benson

A former volunteer firefighter has received a State Government innovation grant to take his life-saving vision one step closer to reality.

Albany man Chris Probert has put more than four years into the development and testing of his Shadrach Burnover Protection Unit, a device inspired by the Black Cat Creek burnover tragedy.

This week, Innovation Minister Dave Kelly announced 15 innovation grants for WA enterprises — and Mr Probert’s was the only one from regional WA.

Mr Probert’s invention followed the death of Albany firefighter Wendy Bearfoot, 45, who succumbed to injuries sustained in a burnover at Two Peoples Bay in 2012.

Instead of seeking shelter in the truck cab, it would allow people to shelter in the tent-like structure made from three layers of heat-resistant materials.

The $20,000 innovation grant will help Mr Probert conduct a worst-case scenario testing regime in partnership with Furnace Industries in Perth.

He expects the testing to happen in the next month, potentially paving the way for the technology to be rolled out across the State.

As usual, he will be the guinea pig.

“I can’t expect fireys to do it if I’m not willing to do it myself,” he said.

“You’re claiming that this will be a safe refuge for firefighters caught in a burnover, so we have to be sure that it’s safe because it’s a pretty big claim to make.

“We have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this is safe.”

Mr Probert said the Shadrach was a last resort for firefighters caught in a burnover.

“At the (Black Cat Creek) inquest, a fire scientist named Neil Burrows gave evidence that no known fire truck would have stood up to the intensity of that fire,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of research done on protecting fireys and their vehicles, but a lot of that is about protecting the crew in their cab.

“Ours is fundamentally different in that in the end we don’t care about the truck, we care about the firefighters.”

Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades executive officer Darren Brown said he was pleased to see the State Government recognise the expertise of a volunteer.

“It’s magnificent to see a volunteer with local knowledge and local wisdom acknowledged for technology that’s actually born out of experience,” Mr Brown said.

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