Tag: australia

Lights and sirens

What is it like to drive a firetruck 'lights and sirens'?

We all fantasize about doing it! Most of us have done it on video games. The most powerful vehicle on the road. Everyone gives way. Well, nearly everyone. There are some idiots.

I've been unlucky enough to have done it so many times I've lost count, over the years. I say unlucky, because you have to see the bigger picture. The only reason for a vehicle to be using lights and sirens is because someone is in danger. It's not fun. While you're busy breaking the road rules, you're acutely aware that someone is desperately waiting for you to arrive. You're listening to information about the job on the radio, and you're trying to plan what you will do when you arrive. Your crew leader is giving everyone orders. You're terrified of what you're doing, and what you will find when you get there. But don't forget to concentrate on the driving...

The first time I did it was in 1986. I was a rooky with Langwarrin Fire Brigade. I'd been with them a little while, and had nearly earned my proper firefighter's jacket. I was still wearing yellow overalls. We were called ducks. A few of us ducks were sent off with the rescue unit to check and maintain fire hydrants one Sunday morning. I was the most experienced duck, so they made me crew leader/driver. While were out checking the hydrants, we got a call on the radio telling us to return to the station 'code 1' (lights and sirens). I asked them send the message again. They confirmed. A bunch of rookies shat themselves. I remember the first red light I ever drove through legally. I remember the cars which were in the intersection. I can tell you their colours, and exactly where they stopped when they gave way. I will never forget it.

Yes, it's a huge rush. But you're terrified out of your mind. If you make a single mistake, people will get hurt.

Some drivers get what we call 'siren syndrome'. They've got such a rush of adrenaline that they break out into a dramatic sweat, and they make a lot of mistakes. It's a common thing and brigades watch for it and help people to overcome it. A driver with siren syndrome may be told by the officer in charge to downgrade to code 3 (normal road rules) to reduce risk.

One of the most dangerous parts of driving code 1 is that the public often overreact and do crazy things right in front of you. It is intimidating to have a firetruck up your arse! It's not possible for us to avoid doing it - we have to get past. Oncoming traffic freaks out and swerves off the road to try to give you room. If a car gets onto the gravel shoulder of the road at 100kmh, it's likely to get out of control. The back end slides out and when it grabs it sends them straight across the road into the oncoming traffic (and you). That's if it doesn't roll. It's happened in front of me.

Some drivers pretend the firetruck doesn't exist and ignore it. If you can't get past them, you crawl along behind them wondering how they even got a license. Everyone in the cabin is swearing. You're on the horn, and they go slower...

You learn some pretty neat tricks after a while - how to get around traffic banked up at an intersection; how to get creative when forging new pathways. I learned that if you're on the wrong side of the road, oncoming traffic is highly motivated to give way to you. But that's very dangerous, because if just one driver doesn't see you, they'll drive straight into you with catastrophic results.

If there is an accident of any kind while you're traveling with lights and sirens on, it is always your fault. The rules say you can only break the road rules if it is safe and expedient to do so. If there is an accident, it obviously wasn't safe! So you are to blame. If someone dies, you will face the coroner.

And there are accidents. They are always tragic.

When you've done it a lot, you don't get a buzz from the lights and sirens. Instead, as you begin your journey, you have butterflies in your stomach and a feeling like you've got an unpleasant task to do and you'd best just get it done.

It takes a lot of practice to do it well. You have to operate the switch for the siren as you drive - changing the tone for straight sections, and emergency vehicles need to make a different noise when they are entering dangerous areas like intersections to let everyone know. Nobody else in the cabin will touch any of the controls. They're not allowed to even operate the switch.

Driving code 1 at night has greater challenges because the lights reflect off EVERYTHING. This makes you think there's movement everywhere, and it attracts your eye. You can't help it. The lights are very bright.

The siren drives you crazy. You turn it off whenever you can get away with it. When it's on, you can't hear yourself think. It makes communicating in the cabin of the truck difficult.

Yes, it's the greatest rush you can imagine. It's not a rush you can enjoy. Being able to break the road rules does not give you freedom - it ties you up in knots.

Coalition tensions simmer over unexpected 'no new national parks' policy

Coalition tensions simmer over unexpected 'no new national parks' policy

November 2, 2014

By Farrah Tomazin

Tensions are simmering in the Napthine government after Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh unexpectedly declared the Coalition would go to the election with a policy for no new national parks.

In a move that caught many of his colleagues by surprise, the Nationals deputy leader made the announcement at a recent forestry industry dinner, putting the government on a collision course with community groups, who had been assured a proposal for a new park in the state's north-east was being considered.

Environmentalists have been pushing for the creation of a proposed Great Forest National Park stretching between Kinglake, Baw Baw and Eildon in a bid to protect the Leadbeater's possum after the 2009 bushfires destroyed 45 per cent of its habitat.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh.
Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh. Photo: Eddie Jim

The idea was being examined by a National Parks Advisory Council that reports to Environment Minister Ryan Smith. However, Mr Smith's office was not aware of Mr Walsh's announcement when contacted by The Sunday Age last week and had to take advice before confirming that, "as the Minister indicated, the Coalition has no plans to announce new national parks during the campaign".

It is understood that some Liberal MPs were privately sympathetic to the great forest park concept, and insiders have question why Mr Walsh appeared to be "freelancing" on environmental policy to appease the timber industry when the matter could prove highly contentious for the government.

With four weeks until the election, green groups are campaigning  in key seats over what they say is the  government's poor environmental performance.

Illustration: Matt Golding.
Illustration: Matt Golding.

Flyers were handed our in Mr Smith's Warrandyte electorate on Saturday branding him the "Minister for Extinction", while voters in the inner-city seat of Prahran, held by Liberal MP Clem Newton Brown, will soon get Wilderness Society leaflets asking them to save the Leadbeater's possum, Victoria's faunal emblem.

Sarah Rees, from the group My Environment, said she felt "angry, deceived and let down" by the government, while Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Nick Roberts said: "A four-year policy vacuum has seen a National Party hit list on Victoria's natural environment. Our forests, rivers and coasts deserve much better from Victoria's next government."

Mr Walsh defended the government's position, saying through spokeswoman Deborah Cole that the Coalition had done more to protect the Leadbeater's possum than Labor did in office, including investing $11 million to implement all 13 recommendations made by a possum advisory group.

Ms Cole said the announcement came during a question-and-answer session at a recent Victorian Association of Forest Industries dinner.

"Minister Walsh told the VAFI dinner that the Coalition would not be committing to new national parks that would result in the loss of timber resources," Ms Cole said.

"For 11 years Labor knew the Leadbeater's possum was endangered and they sat on their hands and did nothing."

The proposed Great Forest National Park would protect 355,000 hectares of forest, added to the existing 170,000 hectares of parks and protected areas in the central highlands.

Supporters admit its size would thwart native timber harvesting in the highlands, but argue more jobs could be created by encouraging nature-based tourism in the region. A Labor source said the ALP was formulating a policy on the issue.

Reprinted from The Sunday Age.

How the Victoria University report misled the public about Port of Hastings

How the Victoria University report misled the public about Port of Hastings

By Brad Lemon

There was a report released by Victoria University recently called 'Build it and they will come?'. The study was conducted under a predefined set of rules, which should have been a clue to everyone that it couldn't be taken seriously. I can only assume that the people who promoted the report as fact either didn't read it carefully, or were motivated to publish a rather sensational story to sell papers.

At the beginning of the report, the good people from Victoria University clearly tell the reader that the way the report was produced was by using the 'pre-mortem analysis' technique. "The pre-mortem technique involves imagining that the project has failed, and inventing a story to explain why..." !!

Here's a screen capture from the report:

Indeed, the authors "encourage your participation in the process".

In other words, they'd like you to help them imagine reasons why the Port of Hastings might fail, and develop scenarios to explain the imagined failure. And we do have vivid imaginations!

I don't think it's right that people use a report of this nature to mislead the public and cause panic that our roads will be congested and ships won't come. If you give the subject just a few minute's thought, the logistics of Melbourne's container traffic are simple and clear:
  • Containers (to carry goods) were invented just after World War 2. Somewhere had to be found to store the containers associated with the Port of Melbourne, and the then empty land to the west of Melbourne was chosen as the most convenient spot. Back then, there was little population in the southeast suburbs.
  • The majority of manufacturing is now done in the southeast suburbs of Melbourne in places like Dandenong. Some container traffic also heads to Gippsland.
  • The Port of Melbourne is being upgraded and will continue to receive and dispatch container traffic into the future to service the north and west of Melbourne.
  • The Port of Hastings will actually help remove congestion from Melbourne's roads, not add to it.
  • Victoria's two Stevedore companies have confirmed (by phone) that they would like to send the larger, more efficient container ships to Hastings now! I encourage you to make your own inquiries.
Long term planning:

The Port of Hastings was planned by Sir Henry Bolte's government in the 1960's. Studies were conducted in the 1970's to ascertain its suitability as a port, and the land was zoned 'Port Related Industry', and has been ever since. We are spoiled with a large area in Hastings which hasn't been overrun with residential buildings and has been reserved for the expansion of the port. The Port of Hastings has been studied and planned for a long time.

I believe this is a case of public opinion being deliberately manipulated by forces unknown. The Victoria University study should be taken at face value - that is: a fictitious story where we all try to imagine that the Port of Hastings has failed, and why that might be. The commentators who reported information contained in the imaginary scenarios appear to have deliberately misled the public, and I can't imagine why that might be. Politics?

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