Forest Fire Camp Developments - Article Being Developed
B Marsden (bio)
As smoke billows on the horizon and the ‘call to duty’ messages fly its ‘action stations’ for forest firefighters. Through long hot summers crews remain prepared and ready to meet the challenge of stopping a developing inferno before forests are lost, and rural properties face destruction. A fire may run its course for several days, or sometimes for weeks or months. Fire crews and their support staff will need to be fed and provided with sleeping quarters and ablutions facilities, often in some of the most remote parts of the State. This is an account of the many changes that have been introduced in Victoria, over a 50 year period, to provide improved conditions for fire crews at fire base camps. This article also covers the introduction, in about 2000, of the use of containers to provide fire camp facilities.
Cooking Units: Large Fires
For large scale fire camps, mobile kitchens fitted with gas appliances were used by the FCV and its successor agencies for the preparation of meals for fire crews. ‘Coppers’ also played a significant role in providing water for the kitchen hands to wash pots and pans during and between shifts. (See Fig: 1) Fig: 1 1951 Carpendeit FCV Fire Crew being fed from a Wiles Mobile Cooker. Photo sourced by Barry Marsden
Cooking Units: Small Fires
If, however, the emergency was, or was hoped to be, a small event – say a fire crew was despatched during the day to round-up a lightning strike - then in the cool of the evening a small camp trailer with an Aldershot oven and ancillary cooking utensils would be used to prepare the evening meal. The Aldershot oven was constructed of a steel top plate and three enclosed sides, with an opening at one end for the placement of wood. (See Fig: 2and 2A) The lid or cooking area was fitted with a chimney at the enclosed end and in some situations a removable 150 mm disc in the middle for large urns or kettles for boiling water. The Aldershot ovens were perfect for providing a quick meal; such as barbecuing steaks and heating and cooking pots of vegetables. Fig: 2 Two Aldershot ovens and a copper in use at a fire camp Photo sourced by Barry Marsden Fig: 2A Basic fire camp set up for a small crew. Photo sourced by Barry Marsden
Catering trailers also provided camp cooks with the tools and equipment to deliver a good meal for a small crew. The trailers were equipped to allow a cook to be quickly despatched to a field location and commence preparation of meals.. Heavy-duty ‘Mess’ tents fitted with flyproof netting walls provided relief for the crews during meal time.
In the period prior to refrigeration becoming a common feature at fire camps,he ‘Meat-Safe’ and, if available, blocks of ice were the methods used to safeguard meat and food stuffs from heat and flies. The meat-safe was a light-weight metal container approximately 600 x 600 mm square with a hinged door and internal shelf. The container was perforated with hundreds of small piercings that allowed air to pass through but not flies. The meat-safe would be hung in a cool shaded area that preferably would get a breeze and be covered with a wet towel which helped to cool the contents. (See Fig: 3A and 3 B) The occasional kerosene refrigerator may have been seen at a fire camp during this period but, in most situations, it was generally a very basic operation. Fig: 3A ‘Meat Safe’ - version 1 Photo sourced by Barry Marsden Fig: 3B ‘Meat Safe’ version 2 Photo by Barry Marsden
In 1982 a large, ex-Military refrigerator was purchased by the FCV, and mounted on a tandem trailer frame to allow transfer to camp locations. The refrigerator was powered by an 8 KVA generator. It weighed 1.820 Kgs. (See Fig: 24 Fig:24 Large trailer mounted refrigerator for use at field fire camps Photo by Barry Marsden
I am unsure whether the FCV owned any large mobile kitchens during the 1950’s, or whether they were outsourced. By the late 1960’s to the early 80’s, the FCV owned and operated two models of 18 foot kitchen vans, the Mobil Trail and the Franklin. In the late 1980's an ageing Mobil Trail model would be auctioned off (See Fig.6) and replaced by a newer and more functional kitchen, manufactured by Brimarco Industries, a Ballarat firm. (See Fig:8) During this period the Franklin mobile kitchens manufactured during the early 1970’s were undergoing refurbishment at the Altona Fire Protection Workshop. (See Fig: 7) The Franklin and Brimarco Kitchens were operated for a further number of years until being auctioned-off in late 2000, with the introduction of a modern Containerised Kitchen System.
Mobile Cool Rooms
Mobile Cool Rooms were initially purchased and introduced by the FCV in the early 1970’s. If additional Cool Rooms were required then more would be hired commercially if available. (See Fig: 25 and 26)
It would be rare for a vehicle to be traversing the fireline with someone handing out a welcome meal from a hot box. If such a situation did occur you were a very lucky firefighter. Generally what food you left camp with in the morning was your meal for the shift. A ‘hot’ meal was more likely to be the result of it sitting in a hot vehicle cabin, or in a backpack against a tree on the fireline in the heat of the day. I can still vividly recall the smell of an open can of ‘hot’ Camp Pie or Bully Beef with the fat around the inside of the lid. I think there must be quite a few cans of this "food", and of Rice Cream, awaiting discovery in the forest where it was discarded by more than one exasperated crew member (See Figs: 4 and 5)
Drinking Water - Canvas Bags
The canvas water bag was the earliest means of providing drinking water for forestry workers and fireline crews. Each vehicle would generally carry at least one full waterbag on the front of the vehicle for drinking purposes, and crews would carry additional waterbags when necessary to keep hydrated during a shift. When a new water bag was issued it would require soaking prior to use to allow the fibres to expand and create a seal to reduce leaking. The outside of the bag would remain damp during travel which would assist with cooling as air passed over it. The exterior of the water bag would become covered in a thick layer of heavy dust particularly on bush tracks where vehicles may well be travelling in tandem. A quick rinse of the water bag outlet when required, and a crew member could quench his thirst and be on his way. No time to complain about the ‘baggy’ taste, or whether or not the water came from pure mountain stream. Pt was water - drink up and get on with it! These were a sign of the times and of how fire crews operated. (See Figs: 9 and 10)
Drinking Water - Portable Backpacks
Portable Backpacks replaced the Canvas Bags in the 1980’s. They consisted of a 1000 denier corduroy outer bag housing a replaceable inner bladder - thus providing personnel with a comfortable and easy to carry 4.5 litre drinking water receptacle. The outer bag could be easily cleaned at the conclusion of operations, while the inner bladder could be discarded and replaced when required.(See Fig. 28 )
Photos with captions in here.