Fast grass fires the big threat, says chief

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Rohan Scott… “You’ve got to protect yourself if you are going to stay and defend. And that kit needs to be ready before the fire starts.”

THIS bushfire season, fires could blaze closer to home, and ACT Rural Fire Service’s acting chief officer Rohan Scott is urging all Canberrans to have a survival plan in place in case they do. 

Rather than the large forest fires seen in the previous fire season, Rohan says this season’s focus will predominantly be grass fires that could threaten urban infrastructure, especially in January and February when the grass is likely to dry out. 

“This year, after that heavy rain, we’ve had massive grass growth, so the focus will be on grass fires,” he says. 

New to the role (since April), it’s not a job that Rohan takes lightly, but he says he’s ready to lead during this fire season. 

“For me, this is the pinnacle of my volunteering and paid employment with the RFS,” he says.

“When I joined the service 23-odd years ago, I never thought I’d be in this position but I’m incredibly humbled to be able to be the leader of an amazing group of volunteers and support staff.”

As for being prepared, Rohan says they always prepare for the worst because they never know what’s going to unfold each season.

“We’ve had a challenging off-season with covid, the royal commission, internal and external reviews, and I’ve just completed a big recruitment so I’ve now got a very good team under me, which I’ve been part of selecting so we’ve got some really good subject-matter experts and some very technical skills within the RFS paid staff, and to be able to lead them into a new structure is exciting,” he says. 

Through a “bushfire operational plan”, Rohan says there’s been spraying, grazing, slashing and weed control in grasslands to prepare minimise fire risk but, it’s not just the fire service that needs to be prepared and he urges the community to do its part and get ready for the fire season now, while the fire risk is still low. 

“If your property backs on to a reserve, you can keep the grass down at the back of your fence,” he says.

“Try and keep any flammables, combustible vegetation away from your property. If you can, allow access for firefighters because a well-prepared property we can defend, whereas an unprepared property makes our job incredibly difficult and in some cases it’s actually too dangerous for us to try and defend the property. 

“If you know a fire’s coming; things like your wheelie bin, fill it up with water or fill up buckets so you can put out little spot fires. And the big thing is, have a hose that reaches all areas of your property, and that might include a hose at the front and rear of the property as well.” 

But most importantly, Rohan says make a survival plan now.

“Your survival plan is either stay and defend or leave early, and you need to know what your triggers are because everyone’s triggers are different,” he says.

“As soon as the fire starts, you might leave instantly or if it’s a total fire ban day, you might decide to leave in the morning but if you do stay and defend you also need to be properly clothed with long-sleeved cotton shirts and pants, robust boots, a helmet would be preferable, definitely goggles and a P2 disposable face mask as a minimum, gloves. 

“You’ve got to protect yourself if you are going to stay and defend. And that kit needs to be ready before the fire starts because you don’t want to be looking for something as the fire’s approaching your property.”

Grass fires start and move fast, according to Rohan, which is why he says the community needs to understand how best to respond in an emergency. 

He also recommends staying informed by downloading the “Fire Near Me” app and creating a survival plan on esa.act.gov.au

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

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