The following is an extract of Surrey's Alan Clark report on the south of England fire and rescue services' wildfire exchange with Les Landes FRS from the June edition of FIRE Magazine - to read the article in full,subscribe here
There has been much work undertaken by fire and rescue services in the UK in recent years to improve their wildfire response. They are working together across the country and with land management and other partners to improve their prevention work, preparedness and response to wildfires.
Towards a Safer Europe
There is a growing impetus however in the UK to improve further by learning from the wider international community - the Federation of European Fire Officers' vision: 'Towards a Safer Europe' clearly indicating the way forwards. Some countries have far greater experience in dealing with this type of incident and international collaboration is vital to improve further in this challenging area.
In the late summer of last year Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (through Area Manager Alan Clark) was contacted by Landes FRS in the south west of France (through Commandant Stephane Poyau) with a view to setting up an exchange programme of mutual benefit to both services. Landes have a great deal of experience in dealing with wildfires, stemming from one devastating incident in 1949 that left 50 civilians and 32 firefighters dead.
They offered the exchange (April 3-5, 2012) as they believed that they could help the south east/west region brigades develop their wildfire response with the benefit of their experience in dealing with a very similar risk. They also saw benefit for themselves in learning from us to help develop further their own home fire safety initiatives and fire investigation work.
Learning the Landes Methodology
Matt Oakley comments: "It was identified that United Kingdom fire and rescue services rely on the wildfire prediction system as a primary method of tactical awareness during wildfire operations. From what was learnt during the exchange a risk assessment methodology that incorporated air temperature, humidity and wind speed would provide a more detailed picture of the fire situation and hence enable a more informed tactical approach to wildfire planning. Training our crews and wildfire officers in a more detailed incident monitoring process will ensure an improved tactical response."
Steve Harrod comments: "The Landes exchange highlighted just how important it is for the UK Fire Service to continue to develop current practices regarding wildfire incidents. There is much to be learnt from the detailed planning, personal protective equipment, tactics and resources employed by world experts, such as the Sapeurs Pompie, that could dramatically improve the effectiveness of fireground activities, and enhance the safety of firefighters involved in frontline operations.
"The key to an effective and safe outcome with this type of incident lies with having suitable and sufficient planning, well educated personnel, and equipment and resources that are fit for purpose."
My own personal experience left me impressed by both the strategy and tactics deployed by Landes FRS at a wildfire incident and the training that goes on beforehand to give their personnel the ability and confidence to deal with these incidents professionally and expediently.
For a department in France with the wildfire risk that they have to have 300 outdoor fires last year that only burnt a total land area of around 200 hectares shows that they are not only hitting these incidents with the appropriate resources in a timely manner but that they employ the right tactics and use the equipment they have to best effect on every occasion.
In addition, their fire detection and severity prediction systems have developed over recent years but remain simple and effective. The use of the existing watch towers together with new camera technology allows starting fires to be detected early and located very accurately.
The exchange attracted widespread interest in France from both the media and local government; something that I hope will help to promote the need to continue to develop our wildfire response and also to work across borders to ensure that best practice is shared by all.
I would like to think that this exchange has laid the foundations for future joint working with Landes FRS for the benefit of both countries firefighters, but even as a standalone venture it will help to shape the thinking around the training, tactics, strategy and future fleet requirements in Surrey and the wider region in years to come.