Two sets of uniforms

Within the RFS there are two sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) that brigade members wear, depending on the job and their level of training. The yellow uniform is given to every brigade member when they pass basic training (bushfire fighter) along with boots, a helmet, goggles, gloves, a flash hood and a water bottle. This is the minimum PPE that has to be worn at any incident by members. All uniforms are treated with ProBan which makes the material fire-resistant (but not fire proof!). 

Standard uniform (photo by Mel Byrne)

Standard uniform (photo by Mel Byrne)

The flash hood given to members is used in two situations. First is an over-run, where a truck is caught in a bushfire and maximum protection is required for occupants of the vehicle. The second situation is when performing a five man fog attack, a technique used to suppress a fire in a compressed flammable gas tank such as an LPG tank. The flash hood is also used by members wearing breathing apparatus (BA) under their helmet. 

BA uniform (photo by Mike Elvidge)

BA uniform (photo by Mike Elvidge)

The second set of uniforms is the green outers that are worn by members trained in the use of breathing apparatus. These are a thicker layer of protection that offers more protection from radiant heat, but not from steam. This second set of PPE is worn over the top of the yellow trousers and a shirt, and the gloves used by BA crews are thicker to withstand more heat. The helmets for the BA members are larger and more heavy as they provide protection from possible falling debris inside a structure. Members undergo rigorous training to be qualified to wear BA and must participate in regular “wearing” of the sets to maintain their competency. 

In addition to the different uniforms there are three different ranks for the members: Captain, Deputy and Ordinary Member. The different ranks are indicated in two ways – the colour and stripes on the helmet and epaulets on the shoulders. A Captain has a red helmet and three stripes on their shoulders, the senior deputy has a red hemet with white stripes and two stripes on their shoulders, and deputies have a white helmet with red stripes and one stripe on their shoulders. All deputies are trained to lead a crew at an incident, and a truck cannot respond from the station (except under direct instruction of a group officer) without a deputy or a member trained to crew leader level. 

Uniforms bear patches sewn onto the outside of members jackets that indicate skill sets they have been trained in. These include village firefighting (VF), advanced firefighting (AF) and first aid (a white cross on a green background). All uniforms bear the crest of the NSW Rural Fire Service, a burning tree on a pale blue background (the full history can be read on the RFS website.

Firefighter equipment - Breathing Apparatus

Fire Fighter Equipment

Breathing Apparatus (BA) - BA Operators

There are a number of brigades in the Hornsby district that are classified as village brigades and carry breathing apparatus (BA) for members to wear inside of a burning house or some other toxic environment. The training to become a breathing apparatus operator is a physically demanding, mostly practical course, and members must undergo a physical before training commences. 

Checking equipment before use

Checking equipment before use

BA operators are deployed at incidents where there is risk of injury from a toxic atmosphere, such as those found at house fires and car accidents. BA operators wear extra protective clothing to provide extra protection from the intense heat found inside at house fires, etc. Breathing apparatus does not make the operators invincible, and there are strict rules and protocols that must be adhered to when it is deployed. The Rural Fire Service will not deploy BA operators unless there is a backup team on site or within eight minutes in case a rescue of members inside the structure is required. 

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Safety is paramount with the use of BA, and operators working inside a structure do so in pairs with radio contact to the incident controller outside. All operators carry a PDU, or Personal Distress Unit which is a motion sensitive alarm on the belt of the BA set, that is activated manually or if the operator is immobile for twenty seconds. This will alert teams outside to a problem inside the structure and indicate that urgent help is required. Operators entering and leaving a structure must ‘check in’ with the Breathing Apparatus Control Officer (BACO), who monitors how long they have been working and gives the teams their objectives. The amount of air left in the cylinders is checked and recorded before operators can enter a structure and the amount of time they can be inside is determined by that amount. 

The operators are required to ‘wear’ or use their breathing apparatus for a certain amount of time every quarter. In addition they must attend at least one of three breathing apparatus exercises every year to maintain their competencies. The training course is undertaken at the district training facility at Westleigh, with the final exam and the subsequent exercises held offsite so members are not familiar with the setting. The Westleigh Training Centre is being upgraded to include a hot cell training facility in addition to the smoke house. This allows BA operators to train in realistic conditions with fire as well as smoke. The equipment used by BA operators is regularly maintained, with weekly checks of the equipment done by members, and a yearly service done by the Fire Control Centre

Training at night

Training at night