CFA fire concerns

A SENIOR CFA member has echoed statewide concerns that safety barriers along many of Wellington Shire’s roads will hamper fire fighting efforts and put emergency service responders in danger.

CFA District 10 operations manager Allan Rankin said local emergency service representatives had told the VicRoads project team there were “serious concerns” the road safety barriers would reduce emergency vehicle access to roadside fires, reduce people’s ability to turn around to avoid fires ahead, and restrict emergency service workers’ ability to manage traffic safely.

Mr Rankin’s comments come just days after several CFA captains around the state raised concerns about the potential dangers of the barriers.

It is believed VicRoads has agreed to now retrofit wire barriers along some sections of the Calder Freeway to give better access to emergency services vehicles.

Mr Rankin said he understood the reason for the barriers, but he and other members feared they may affect fire fighting efforts in the coming season.

“I wonder whether we are addressing one issue, but creating another,” he said.

“We have provided feedback to VicRoads, and now it’s a ‘wait and see’ matter.”

The risk to emergency services personnel was highlighted recently when responders to a grass fire on the Sale-Maffra Rd were unable to park safely off the road because of the barriers.

Mr Rankin said passing motorists did not obey the new 40kmh rule that applies when passing emergency services vehicles, and the situation posed a “real challenge” for responders.

He said in roadside areas where there were high fuel loads, the road barriers posed the greatest risk.

“How do we get people out quickly if there are only breaks every 500 or so metres?” he questioned.

“You only have to have an accident occurring, and it poses real problems for emergency service vehicles to get where they need to go.”

Mr Rankin said the CFA may need to make some adjustments to fire fighting strategies this season because of the changed road conditions, but would “do their best” in all situations.

A CFA communications advisor said the CFA would continue to “engage with VicRoads, other emergency service organisations and our members, to ensure the best possible safety outcome for the community”.

“Protecting our communities is our paramount concern, and we are doing everything we can to ensure a holistic approach to community safety.”

Safe System Road Infrastructure Program director, Bryan Sherritt, said there were breaks every 270 metres on the Sale-Maffra Rd to maintain access for school buses and emergency vehicles.

“We’re working with local emergency services to ensure they can continue to respond to incidents safely,” he said.

Maffra-Sale Rd was identified as one of Victoria’s top 20 riskiest rural roads.

The $5.4 million safety upgrade included the installation of 21 kilometres of flexible safety barriers, a wide centreline safety treatment, rumble strips and two metre wide sealed road shoulders.

Flexible safety barriers are currently being installed on Princes Highway east from Longwarry to Sale.

On average, there are breaks at every 500 metres to one kilometre.

Early works have been completed on Princes Highway east from Sale to Bairnsdale, and the design for the remainder of the project will be finalised in early 2018.