AUGUST 2022: CFA brigades and SES Units show climate leadership

Most firefighters know that climate change is leading to longer and more intense fire seasons. This is changing how we fight fires. It highlights the fact that, as a local and global community, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a matter of urgency.

Many local brigades are also doing their bit to reduce emissions. Installing renewable power and storage can also build the resilience of local brigades when fire threatens town electricity supplies. Here are a few stories from around Victoria.

[Header image: Newham CFA members, image via MRSG].

Continue reading AUGUST 2022: CFA brigades and SES Units show climate leadership

AUGUST 2022. As the northern hemisphere burns, what are the lessons for Australia?

IMAGE: Bordeaux, France, August 12. ‘Fire front is 3 kilometers long. 6,200 hectares already gone and 10,000 people have been evacuated. A63 motorway on fire’. Photo via Dave Throup.

The northern hemisphere summer has been terrible. Heat waves have killed many thousands, from Iran and India to Portugal and France. Flash flooding has closed the Grand Canyon, while ‘Lake’ Mead, a massive dam on the Colorado River, is almost empty. Across the northern hemisphere, from Siberia and Alaska to normally temperate countries like England and even Ireland there have been devastating wild fires.

Droughts, which are exacerbated by a warming climate, are making wildfires more frequent, destructive, and harder to fight in many places. Firefighters in temperate countries are often not equipped or trained in dealing with landscape scale fires. There are not prepared for potentially months long seasons. In one month, wildfires tore through Portugal, Spain, France, England and Germany, which had all seen record-high temperatures. Greece and Turkey also burnt. This challenged the fire fighting capacity in each country. For instance, in mid August, a wildfire broke out in France’s Gironde region. The fire grew to more than 15,000 acres in a short time and 8,000 people were evacuated. Local firefighting capacity was overwhelmed. Firefighters from a number of countries, including Sweden and Italy, were mobilised to support local efforts.

Continue reading AUGUST 2022. As the northern hemisphere burns, what are the lessons for Australia?

JULY 2022: How should the new government respond to the threat of fire?

Fire ready policies


We know that Australia is facing ever worse climate change driven disasters (‘UnNatural’ disasters). These include worsening fire seasons, longer heatwaves, increased flooding and longer droughts. The following are some suggestions on how Australia should be responding to longer and more intense fire seasons.

Having a new national government offers huge opportunities to fine tune how we fight fires.

The first thing, of course, is to stop contributing to climate change. This means increasing our ambition on climate change (for instance committing to a 75% emission reduction target by 2030) and ending the development of all new fossil fuel projects. Reducing emissions will reduce future climate impacts.

We also need to increase our ability to fight fires as seasons get longer and more intense.

Australia’s bushfire season is a month longer than it was 40 years ago, and extreme fire weather days are up by more than 50 per cent. CSIRO scientist Pep Canadell says that will grow further, depending on global efforts to tackle climate change.

If warming is limited to 1.5C – the primary target in the Paris climate pact – the fire season will grow by another 11 days.

But if warming hits 4C – at the extreme end of scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – another 36 days would be added.

Some researchers have noted that there is no longer a ‘fire season’. In some parts of the world, like California, landscape scale fire can now occur year round. As was noted recently by Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists,  “climate change has pushed a lot of these types of events into a new realm that is much more dangerous. So as we were thinking about this season, and how we’re going to respond to it, the phrase ‘danger season’ seems appropriate.”

How should Australia respond?

A key issue is having the resources to be able to fight the fires that are coming. Here are some ideas.

Overall co-ordination and response

  • The federal government must review the Emergency Response Fund and other existing government response mechanisms to evaluate whether they are fit for purpose for ever greater climate change induced disasters, including bushfire, flooding, drought and heatwaves. The review should be carried out by an independent inquiry and consult deeply with first responders and community organisations involved in disaster recovery and prevention
  • The government should review the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan, developed by the National Bushfire and Climate Summit (2020) which brought together hundreds of participants to share their experiences, and to formulate recommendations to address the worsening risk of devastating bushfires fuelled by climate change.

Extra air capacity

The bushfire royal commission interim report recommends that Australia

  • Invest in a “modest, Australian-based sovereign [very large aerial tanker/large aerial tanker] capability” as the climate emergency means that northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons are running together. Australia is currently reliant on the United States for large aerial firefighting aircraft – only two large air tankers are currently permanently based in Australia.

The commission report also says:

  • There may also be a need to explore contracting models that encourage Australian industry involvement in the development of future aerial firefighting capability.
  • In order to ensure Australia’s fire fighting aerial capacity capitalises on existing assets and is made up of the right mix, the Commonwealth should conduct a trial on the feasibility of retrofitting RAAF C130 aircraft with airborne fire fighting systems to provide the Australian Defence Force with the capacity to augment aerial fire fighting during major disasters.
  • The Commonwealth should work with states and territories through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to review the current mix of aviation assets and determine whether it is fit-for-purpose, noting the current lack of mid-sized fire fighting aircraft.

We note that the new Emergency Services minister is already met with the AFAC to discuss requirements and look forward to the establishment of a publicly owned fleet of Large Air Tankers.

More capacity on the ground


A national remote area firefighting team. As fire threatens World Heritage Areas and national parks across the country, it is time to establish a national remote area firefighting team, which would be tasked with supporting existing crews in the states and territories.

Long fire seasons stretch local resources, and sometimes remote areas need to be abandoned in order to focus on defending human assets. Having an additional, mobile national team that could be deployed quickly to areas of greatest need would help us protect the wonderful legacy of national parks and World Heritage Areas across the country.

This was recommended by a Senate inquiry after the devastating fires in Tasmania of 2016.

Create opportunities for urban people to volunteer as firefighters

Existing volunteer services rely on attracting members who live close to fire stations so they can deploy quickly. This means that the vast majority of Australian citizens cannot become volunteer firefighters. We propose that new remote area volunteer teams be established which could focus on attracting and training younger people in major cities and regional centres who could then nominate for deployment in major campaign fires.

Given the fact that many regional volunteer brigades are aging, this would bring considerable new capacity into volunteer brigades at a very low cost (Tasmania recently established a volunteer remote area firefighting team at a cost of $2.3 million, which was used to support the TFS with management, training and equipment to develop its volunteer and career remote firefighting capability. As a result they now have 140 trained remote area firefighters).

Support our volunteers to make their contributions sustainable

We need to prepare our emergency services – both career and volunteer – for the increasing demands of climate-driven disasters. As flooding, fires and heatwaves become more common it is clear that the load on existing volunteers will become unsustainable. We will need to transform how we respond to these disasters, with potential changes to resourcing for volunteers and their employers.

First-responders are being overwhelmed by the size, intensity and frequency of unprecedented extreme weather events. It is essential that there is a review of budgets for all first responder organisations to ensure they are sufficient to the reality of the climate driven disasters of the 21st century.

We should also investigate opportunities to provide financial support for volunteer firefighters who need to take extended periods of time off work in long fire seasons. The 2019/20 season showed the impacts of a long season on local brigades and individuals, who took long periods of time off work in order to fight fires.

Training our firefighters for the conditions that are coming.

The government also needs to investigate the need for new, standardised firefighter training modules that explicitly address dynamic fire behaviours and extreme bushfire development, given that these types of behaviours will increase in prevalence – even if sufficient climate action is taken by government.

What else?

These suggestions just relate to our capacity to fight fires. They do not cover land and forest management, including the issue of Cultural Burning.

JUNE 2022: What’s next for AFCA – please give us your ideas.

Our first campaign aimed to mobilise grassroots fire fighters to get active and call on the (then Coalition) federal government to take meaningful action on climate change (you can read about the campaign here).

Now, as we look towards the summer of 2022/23 we would love to hear your thoughts on what next.

What campaign ideas do you have for us to focus on? Please feel free to post here, or on our facebook page or drop us a line via our Contact page.

Here’s what we have received so far:

– help get solar panels and batteries on fire stations – as a signal that firefighters want to see tangible action, plus providing power for remote brigades that may lose power in fire events
– encourage brigades to put pro climate action signs on their stations
– produce AFCA merchandise (tshirts, hats, stickers, stubby holders)
– more resources and support for brigade training regarding tackling fires in electric vehicles and home batteries
– campaign for financial support for volunteer firefighters who are missing out on paid work due to more intense and longer fire seasons
– lobby the AFAC about the need for firefighter training modules that explicitly address dynamic fire behaviours and extreme bushfire development, given that these types of behaviours will increase in prevalence – even if sufficient climate action is taken by government.

JAN 2022: Firefighters still paying the price for the Federal Government’s failure to act on climate

Firefighters across the country are today launching the #ClimateFire campaign. Driven by a shared value of meaningful climate action, grassroots firefighters are getting organised. The Australian Firefighters Climate Alliance unites volunteer and career firefighters who want to see their governments commit to meaningful climate action.

Firefighters are on the frontlines of Climate Change and they see firsthand how conditions are deteriorating. The challenge of keeping our homes and towns safe in a warming climate is becoming untenable.

In just a few decades the fires of Black Summer will be standard and most of the recommendations from the Bushfire Royal Commission have been parked on the shelf. The only solution is to join the global effort in reducing emissions as quickly as possible.

“We know that we have a narrow window to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have a hope of avoiding climate catastrophe” said volunteer firefighter Cam Walker. “We also know that failure to act will mean ever worse fires, drought, floods and heatwaves in coming years”.

“In just a few decades, we’ll regularly see 50° degree days, you can’t fight fires in that heat”

Bushfires are becoming more frequent and bushfire season is lasting longer because of climate change.  Unless we act now to reduce our emissions in line with what climate science suggests, we will become locked in to ever worsening fire seasons.”

“Firefighters are on the frontline of climate change. We see the impacts of fire seasons that are longer and more intense” said firefighter Darin Sullivan. “Fire behaviour is changing, and changing for the worse. Climate change causes extreme weather, which in turn causes bushfires and other natural disasters. This is our workplace, and it is becoming more and more unsafe”.

“The federal government must commit to slashing emissions by at least 75% by 2030.

On Monday January 24, firefighters will start to make their demands clear through decentralised, personal actions. These can be found on these platforms:

Full details here.

On our facebook page is here.

You can find us on Instagram here.

And through the hashtag #ClimateFire

Media comment

Vivien Thomson, AFSM (NSW) 0408 282899

Darin Sullivan (NSW) 0422 436 044