"The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do."
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia, Inaugural Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, August 1996.

Fire Equipment

  • Aerial Ignition

    Aerial Ignition

    Barry Marsden (bio)


    Barry Marsden was the lead player in the development of the new aerial ignition machines based on the "Premo Principle", and the Aerial Drip Torches described in this article. Bryan Rees played a key role in field testing the "Premo" machine.

    From the late 1960s, aerial ignition became a very important part of Victorian forestry operations. Initially, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters were used for fuel reduction burning, with helicopters also playing a key role in large-scale backburning during fire suppression operations. Eventually, helicopters also came to be important in igniting regeneration burns following timber harvesting.

  • Fire Equipment - Camps

    Forest Fire Camp Developments

    B Marsden (bio)

    In 1955, Mark Stump records "Our campsite on the crest of the ridge became quite strung out as each man selected a tree to provide stability from the downslope side. One could lie "along the slope" or preferably "across the slope" in reasonable comfort as long as there was a decent sized tree to rest against, thus ensuring you would still be there at daylight."

    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 to provide improved conditions for fire crews at base camps. Many of the changes were incremental in nature, but in 2000 the Department of Sustainability and Environment, with OHS in mind, directed a team to investigate current trends for providing meals and accommodation for fire crews and, as a consequence, a modular and containerised system was introduced, as you will see in each section of the article.




    Transport by container trailer
    Source: B Marsden

  • Fire Equipment - Foam

    Foam in Forest Firefighting

    Barry Marsden (bio)

    This paper sets out the history of Class A Foam use in Victoria, giving full details of equipment development and the advantages and disadvantages of the various approaches.

    The nature of water makes its conservation difficult, since it evaporates, beads up and will not penetrate or stick to vertical surfaces. One method which assists with overcoming these difficulties is adding foam compound to the water.

    In Victoria, from the mid 1950's until the early 1980's, water was treated with "wetting agent" to reduce the surface tension of the solution, and allow it to spread and penetrate fuels more effectively. Wetting agent plus water was known as "wet water". Wetting agent was available in powder form in cellophane packs from the mid-fifties, and as a liquid in more serviceable plastic packs from the mid-sixties. It was introduced directly into the water tank, then mixed in by vehicle motion or by pump impeller rotation. Although it was an advance over using plain water, "wet water" could not be made into foam. Also, pump priming problems due to cavitation were frequent. An improvement had to be found, and the answer lay in both equipment development and the introduction of Class A Foam.

    Following reports of successful trials in Canada and France, in which Class A foams proved superior to wetting agents for wildfire suppression, foams were introduced into the forest fire operations in the early 1980's

    What's so good about foam?

    Foam is visible and sticky. The ability to see where it has been applied avoids over-treatment, and thinning areas pinpoint where the foam is breaking down, so identifying hot spots. Its stickiness enables foam to cling to vertical surfaces, providing an insulating blanket which reflects radiant heat and reduces waste through run off.

    The above introduction is based on this article from 1995
    and there is additional detail in this paper from 1996.

  • Fire Equipment - Introduction

    Fire Equipment - Introduction

    If you look at The Hand of Man, produced by the FCV following the 1939 fires, you will see the rudimentary nature of the equipment available to those facing the fires. In 1939 an incomplete document prepared by CJ Irvine also gives some insight into the level of equipment available at this time.

    During the 1950s the FCV was developing and evaluating fire equipment at its Fire Protection Workshop in North Altona. The program was led by Assistant Fire Protection Officer ED (Ted) Gill and Fire Equipment Officer, James (Jim) Hennessy. These were early days and the many pumps introduced into the FCV manufactured either locally or overseas at that time have now long gone and been replaced with more efficient and less cumbersome water delivery systems. The attached document by ED Gill provides some insight into the fire equipment that was developed and introduced during that time.

    Certainly, from the 1950s, there were rapid advances in the equipment available to Victorian forest firefighters at all levels. This blog is designed to provide an insight into those developments. There are some articles in the blog below that cover major equipment, but there were also many other innovations that are worth noting. These Fire Equipment Notes (42MB) describe many of these innovations.




    Barry (Rocky) Marsden
    Dec 2009
    Photo: N Fraser

  • Fire Equipment - Large Tankers

    Large Fire Tankers

    Barry Marsden (bio)

    The two videos connected through this page were produced by Rawdon Sthradher. Rawdon was originally a photographer and video producer with the Soil Conservation Authority and then CF&L in all its various guises for 12 years. He freelanced for the next 20 years, and in that time still did quite a bit of work for Fire Management, Fisheries and other sections of the Department.

    This article describes the main tanker versions between 1950 and 2014.

    1950: Blitz Tanker 4x4

    Purchased from the RAAF in Amberley Queensland after the second World War.
    Exact capacity of water tank and make of pump unknown. A low-down hand-operated back-up pump and tank-mounted hose reel are visible in the photo.

    Mike Cecil (website) has provided the following information about the vehicle:

    The 'Blitz' is a Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) vehicle, Cab 13 type, built by Ford. The Canadian Department of National Defence model number is F60L, which translates as F for Ford, 60 being 60cwt rated carrying-capacity under all conditions; ie 3 tons, and L being Long wheel base, which was 158.25 inches. The Ford model number is C0180F. The engine was a conventionally-aspirated 239 cubic inch side valve V8 petrol engine, the gear box a four-speed forward, one reverse, and the transfer box a two-speed selectable high-low range. Four wheel drive was selected in the transfer case. The vehicle pictured is a Ford F60L without a winch. It has the Australian 1944 pattern cab with demountable canvas doors. The rear military bodywork has been replaced with a custom-built tanker body which is not military, so there is no telling what the original bodywork may have been. The caption states that it was purchased from the RAAF. This is most probably not strictly correct: the purchase would have been from the Commonwealth Disposals Commission (CDC) who handled all disposals in the immediate post-war period. It may have been ex-RAAF and sold from Amberley, but would have been written off and handed to the CDC for the actual disposal. There were two manufacturers of CMPs: Ford and Chevrolet. There were thousands and thousands purchased or supplied under the Canadian Mutual Aid Agreement (CMA) during WW2, and used by all three services plus some supplied to the US Forces operating in Australia.


    Purchased from the RAAF in Amberley,
    Queensland after WW2.

  • Fire Equipment - Mid Range Tankers

    Mid-Range Tankers

    Barry Marsden (bio)

    As it had done since the early 1970s, the North Altona Fire Equipment Development Centre continued to operate, through the 1990s, as an innovative R&D centre. In the mid-1990s the Centre developed slip-on fire-fighting modules for use with the Mitsubishi Canter 4x4, and the Isuzu NPS 300, 4x4 tray vehicles. The fire-fighting modules were assembled with three different tank capacities: 1000 litre, 1200 litre and 1500 litre. The configuration of each vehicle, whether a single or twin cab, or whether a crane was installed, would impact on the water-carrying capacity. The 1000 litre capacity slip-on module was developed for the smaller Mitsubishi Canter when fitted with a crane. (Fig 1) The 1200 litre module was developed for the Isuzu NPS 300 with a crane, and the 1500 litre for the twin cab Isuzu NPS 300 without a crane.

  • Fire Equipment - Personal Protection

    FireFighter Personal Protection

    This article is being developed.


    There is an article her we need to develop about personal protection. An item of interest in this area is the development of Fire Survival Tents (see Article by A King)

  • Fire Equipment - Pumps

    Fire Pumps

    Barry Marsden (bio)


    Going back to the 1940’s and 1950’s the fire pumps were either rope or crank start. Rope start pumps could be very difficult to start when weather conditions were extremely hot, causing a pump operator to become quite flustered, to put it mildly, with the constant rewinding and pulling on the rope to get the motor to start. This problem was evident with the rope start motors on the 7HP Howard Grascos and Wisconsin GAAM pumps installed on the Bedford RLHC tankers during the 1960’s. The Howard motors would eventually become obsolete, and be replaced over time by the modified 7HP Wisconsin GAAM. (Fig.1)

  • Fire Equipment - Relay Tanks

    Remote Area Firefighting

    Self-Supporting and Framed Water Storage Tanks

    Barry Marsden (bio)

    Remote area fire-fighting was a difficult and physical operation for a fire crew in the 1950s and '60s. Several methods used were ‘dry’ fire-fighting techniques using rake-hoes and shovels, and ‘blacking- out’ using a ‘hose relay’ system.

    A ‘hose relay’ system was constructed by siting a fire pump at a water source; either a creek or dam, and transferring the water via a delivery hose to a relay tank, previously set up several hundred metres along the fire edge .The water provided would be used by the fire crew to attack the fire edge using a knapsack spray, or a separate pump and hose line connected to the relay tank.

    If water was required at a greater distance, a second or third relay tank and pump system would be positioned further along the fire edge, providing additional water access. A pump operator would be positioned with each relay tank transfer pump to maintain its fuel supply and to ensure that a constant water flow was being delivered.

  • Fire Equipment - Retardant Mixing

    Fire Retardant Mixing Systems

    Barry Marsden (bio)

    In 1939, Victoria was one of the first locations in the world to trial the ‘bombing’ of bush-fires using aircraft, and in 1967 the Forests Commission (FCV) made the first operational use of aerial-firebombing in Australia using two fixed-wing agricultural aircraft.

    Overseas experience and earlier local trials had suggested that mixing water with chemicals, to create a fire retardant, made operations far more effective. Retardants were subsequently found to be particularly useful in slowing the spread of lightning-caused fires in inaccessible terrain, thereby improving the likely success and safety of follow-up ground crews.

  • Fire Equipment - Small Tankers

    Small Tankers
    From Water Cart to Multi-Function Firefighting Tool

    Barry Marsden (bio)

    A US business woman, Margaret Heffernan, is recorded as believing that, ‘…for good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, (and) debate….’

    Well everything has a beginning, and that includes the current day 400 litre slip-on fire-fighting module. The concept started off as a basic water cart and slowly developed into a vital firefighting tool that is, these days, fitted to every one tonne fire vehicle operated by forest fire crews across Victoria.

  • Fire Equipment Gallery

    Fire Equipment Gallery


    Large Tankers

    (See also this article)


    (See also this article)

    Small Tankers

    (See also this article)

    Retardant Mixers

    (See also this article)

    Relay Tanks

    (See also this article)

    Fire Camps

    (See also this article)


    Fire Pumps

    (See also this article)
    First Attack Dozers
    Contact the Editor


  • Major Workshops - North Altona

    Major Workshops - North Altona

    Barry Marsden (bio)

    In 1947 the FCV purchased an area of land at North Altona from Brooklyn Quarries Pty Ltd. (Map here) In this article the site is referred to as North Altona, although the facilities and functions delivered on the site have changed dramatically since 1947.

    The original allotment has been reduced by the granting of an easement to the former State Electricity Commission, the leasing of land to the local Italian community for the building of an Italian Social Club, and by the sale of a parcel of land on the southern boundary.

    The current site is located in Kyle Road, North Altona – (Same map as earlier) In 2019 the area of the property was 2.31ha.

    The land on the eastern side of Kyle Road, which is no longer part of the North Altona site, was originally used for the purpose of a FCV firewood storage depot and workshop. It was called the Brookwood rail-siding, and was one of several firewood storage depots close to and in Melbourne, the others being in Toorak, Fitzroy and Kew. These firewood depots were a part of the FCV's post-WW2  involvement in supplying firewood to meet community needs.

    In December 1950 a large fire at this depot destroyed more than 3300 tonnes of firewood.

    Wednesday 20th December 1950 (Media report extract )
    The Argus Melbourne

    The sky over Melbourne was red last night from fires through out the metropolitan area. The main outbreak was at Brookwood where a Forests Commission Fire wood depot was practically destroyed.

    No estimate could be obtained of the damage last night but it is expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds. The fire will also seriously hit Melbourne’s winter firewood supplies, a shortage of which has already been forecast.

    Contact the Editor


  • Remote Sensing - Fire - TBC

    Remote Sensing - Fire


    This article is being developed

    A focus on the use of IR technology in aircraft, first used in Vic in about 1981/82, to map wildfires

    My memory is we first tried a line scanner in 1981/82 on a fire near Kilmore/Wallan - It was owned by CSIRO and operated from a Fokker F27 that was either owned by or leased by CSIRO. I don't remember a real time image available in tthe aircraft.

  • Supply Drops

    Supply Dropping Boxes

    Athol Hodgson (bio)


    In the early 1950's the FCV stepped up its efforts to extinguish all unplanned fires in State forests by taking aggressive action against fires in remote and inaccessible forests in the east of the State. FCV's policy was to do everything reasonable to reduce the time between when a fire started and the initial attack. Fire crews were trained and equipped for "dry" fire fighting and expected to walk - sometimes long distances - to fires.