Fitness test puts forestry firefighters through their paces ahead of fire season

Local Forestry Corporation of NSW staff have completed the first stage of their annual fire season preparations, passing gruelling fitness tests that simulate the strain placed on the body during firefighting.

Many Forestry Corporation staff are trained as firefighters and must pass an annual fitness test, which involves walking 3.22 kilometres in less than 30 minutes wearing an 11.3 kilogram vest.

Third-generation forester Rod Winkler, who has been working and fighting fires in the region’s forests for close to 35 years, and Field Ecologist Peter Simon coordinated a fitness program for staff to prepare them for this year’s test, which they plan to continue into the fire season.

Mr Winkler said he was motivated to coordinate the training sessions after missing his first fire season last year due to a knee injury.

“Training is much easier when you’ve got someone walking alongside you giving you encouragement — if you develop relationships and you know you can depend on someone life is easier, not just on fires but in our general work,” Mr Winkler said.

“That teamwork side of things is something Forestry Corporation is really good at.

“Over the years I’ve been involved in fighting so many fires in the region, from big fires out the back of Coffs Harbour in ’94, to fires around the township of Nambucca where the forest abuts the community, to a big fire in the young eucalypt plantation at Barcoongere State Forest a few years ago that had 30 metre flame heights coming out the tops of the trees.

“Getting ready for the fitness test not only helps firefighting, but it also has benefits in preventing injuries for our teams out in the bush.

“I supervise a team of Field Technicians who are in the bush every day walking the mountains looking for rare plants, koalas, wildlife and other important features so we can protect them.

“It’s a very difficult job under extreme conditions and they do it very well. The fitter they can be, the less likelihood there is of an injury.”

Forestry Corporation of NSW’s Protection Supervisor Tom Newby said local staff took their fire-fighting responsibilities seriously and played a crucial role in managing, preventing and fighting fires in the region’s State forests.

“Bushfires are a big risk and our firefighters have been on the front line fighting significant fires in the region in recent years, including a bushfire in Scotchman State Forest near Bellingen last year which had potential to be a large fire.

“Fortunately we brought it under control using a combination of traditional firefighting and modern technology including drones, mapping technology and a contract helicopter,” Mr Newby said.

“We need to be confident staff are fit and able to manage the physical pressures of the fire front, so fitness tests are a crucial part of our preparation the official fire season each year, along with scenario-based exercises and a program of hazard reduction burning.

Forestry Corporation is responsible for more than two million hectares of native and plantation forests and has been formally involved in fire-fighting for more than 100 years.

The organisation also works in partnership with the Rural Fire Service, and National Parks and Wildlife Services to help limit the impact of fire on forests and communities across the state.

For more information about Forestry Corporation of NSW, visit www.forestrycorporation.com.au

Media contact: Rod Campbell