Author Identifiers

Greg Peter Penney
ORCID: 0000-0002-2560-3700

Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Medical & Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Marcus Cattani

Second Advisor

Professor Daryoush Habibi

Abstract

Wildfire suppression remains an inherently dangerous yet increasingly frequent task for fire services throughout Australia and the world. Each year firefighters from career and volunteer agencies respond to wildfires that impact the urban interface. When such an event occurs during a period of intense fire behaviour the conditions are often incompatible with life for persons either caught in the open or those seeking refuge in a vehicle. In order to improve firefighter safety and operational effectiveness at the rural urban interface (RUI) during landscape scale wildfires, this dissertation serves to examine critical components of wildfire response, most notably wildfire suppression strategies and tactics applied during a landscape scale wildfire event and the procedures and protective systems utilised in the event of firefighter entrapment and burnover.

The theme of the research is firefighter safety and suppression effectiveness during mega-wildfire response at the rural urban interface (RUI), also known as the wildland urban interface (WUI). Mega-wildfires are those landscape wildfires that overwhelm firefighting resources, typically generate their own localized weather systems, and require campaign style efforts lasting extended durations. Wildfire events including Margaret River (2011), and Yarloop (2016) in Western Australia, the devastating Californian and Greece wildfires (2018) and the unprecedented wildfires throughout eastern Australia in late 2019 / early 2020 meet this category. The RUI is the land where towns and cities exist alongside forest and other vegetation that supports the development of an established headfire with a quasi-steady rate of spread (RoS) across the landscape. In such instances, firefighters are called on to protect vulnerable communities and critical infrastructure from the ember storms, radiant heat and flames that accompany the head fire. In doing so, firefighters face great personal peril. If the incorrect suppression tactics or strategies are applied, or if wildfire behaviour suddenly changes, firefighter entrapment and burnover resulting in significant injury or fatality remains an all too common consequence.

The studies not only quantify the severity of the conditions firefighters encounter when attempting to protect life, property and the environment at the RUI, but also find traditional wildfire suppression strategies and tactics at the RUI need to be reexamined. Whilst the field of wildfire engineering is in its infancy, the studies suggest its development and adoption into wildfire suppression operations has the potential to improve both operational effectiveness and firefighter safety.

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