Home' InDaily : October 30th 2009 Contents October 30 - November 5, 2009
5The Independent Weekly
The Country Fire Service is
refusing to properly consider
techniques which could save lives,
say the men who ran the authority
during the devastating Ash
Wednesday bushfires of 1983.
Lloyd Johns, the CFS's director
from 1979 to 1985, and Peter
Schwerdtfeger, CFS board chair-
man from 1977 to 1984, both suffered
public accusations and personal
regret after the Ash Wednesday
Mr Johns was fired from the
service and later successfully took
court action for unfair dismissal.
Since leaving, they have
researched what could and should
have been done to curtail tragedy.
Both conclude the CFS is missing
one crucial element -- a large-scale
aircraft such as the Bombardier
415, commonly referred to as the
"These planes are specifically
designed to fly in fire conditions.
The crop-dusters currently used,
while good fire-fighting measures,
aren't purpose-built and have
restrictions because of that," said
The SuperScooper aircraft can
work on both land and water. It is
a large plane which carries 6000
litres of water and flies at speeds
comparable to a commercial
plane for up to four hours without
One difference between these
planes and the fixed-wing bombers
on the SA fleet, which carry more
water, is the larger fuel capacity
and ability to top-up water supplies
by scooping from nearby reservoirs
Mr Johns and Mr Schwerdtfeger
say the CFS has an inexplicable
resistance to using this kind of
"The appalling thing is the
entrenched lobby which has
become persuasive and powerful
that has worked so hard against
these planes," Mr Schwerdtfeger
Manager of aviation services
at the CFS, David Cant, said the
SuperScooper planes had been
left out of the fleet because they
were not the best choice for local
"They are a good and capable
aircraft but there are limitations in
SA," he said.
SA's aerial fire-fighting fleet
consists of an Erickson air-crane,
which is a helicopter-like vehicle,
and 13 other aircraft including
three Bell helicopters, seven
fixed-wing air tractors and three
fixed-wing surveillance planes.
Mr Cant said this mix suited SA.
"The number of aircraft we have
in SA means we have the fastest
response bombers in the world.
We also supplement them with
high-capacity helicopters like the
Erickson air-crane," he said.
But Mr Schwedtfeger said the
SuperScooper was capable of
fighting fires in worse conditions
and being more effective than the
vehicles currently in the fleet.
"They are able to withstand
turbulent forces because of their
stubby purpose-build, and they fly
low and accurate. You can't take
aircraft built for steady and level
flight and fly them into a severely
turbulent environment and expect
them to perform properly," he said.
Mr Cant said the SuperScooper
was restricted by SA conditions. He
argues there is not enough scooping
water available for the plane, no
logical place to base the aircraft and
that it is not worth the high cost.
"There's only about three
reservoirs they can work from and
once you get above one metre wave
height in the sea they are limited
with scooping there. They do need a
longer airstrip to take off initially;
that's one of the limitations, too,"
"They're a very expensive
aircraft. What we try and do is
get value for money and cover the
maximum community areas in SA."
Mr Johns and Mr Schwerdtfeger
protest the first two objections as
"Ninety per cent of the SA
population lives within 50km of
the coast. I've stood on the beach in
Glenelg and watched a demonstra-
tion aircraft scoop in 1.8 metres
waves," Mr Johns said.
Mr Schwerdtfeger added: "This
is an extremely powerful aeroplane
and the take-off distances it
requires are extremely modest."
A submission from the company
which manufactures the aircraft,
Bombardier, to the Victorian
Bushfire Inquiry of 2003 supports
They also argue the expensive
upfront cost of the plane would
be recouped through savings on
bushfire damage and because it
could be employed in a variety of
roles including search and rescue
and coastline monitoring.
Mr Johns said the CFS would not
properly consider the plane, despite
its life-saving potential, because of
a culture of misinformation around
"It's an old-boy culture within
the fire authorities. They're not
prepared to open their minds and
look at the objective capabilities of
these planes," he said.
Mr Johns and Mr Schwerdtfeger
are frustrated. When they think
about the SuperScooper they can't
help imagine how it could have
been used under their authority
during the Ash Wednesday crisis to
save lives and property.
"Take it from me, because I was
there and in charge, those aircraft
could have been flying for 90 per
cent of the time," said Mr Johns.
Mr Cant said there was no need to
add the SuperScooper to "the good
mix" we already have in SA.
More money has been allocated to
aerial fire-fighting in recent years.
In the 2002/2003 budget, only $1.6
million was given, while in the most
recent budget almost $6.8 million
was paid. Emergency Services
Minster Michael Wright said the
money helped build a "diverse
fleet of firefighting aircraft here
in South Australia for the widely
dispersed fire risk areas".
Those outside the ranks of CFS
and government question whether
it is diverse enough.
The SuperScooper in action.
Photo: Bombardier Inc
Heat on CFS fire plan
The Yarra Pygmy Perch,
thought to be extinct in SA's
south-east, has made an
It's been rediscovered in
the West Avenue Wetlands,
one of the few remaining
small pockets of the SE's
original vast wetlands.
The system has been dry
for three years, but with
above average winter rain it
is now full and teeming with
The nationally vulnerable
Yarra Pygmy Perch, which
has not been seen in the
wetlands since 2005, was a
surprise discovery in Henry
Creek during an open day for
almost 250 people when two
females were found. Now, 12
fish including males have
Native Fish Australia's
Dr Michael Hammer said
it was amazing the fish had
managed to survive.
"We must have underesti-
mated their adaptability," he
said. "But their core habitat
was still there, reeds, so they
would have been able to hide
out and conserve energy and
now they are active again."
Environment and Heritage
(DEH) marine ecologist Scott
Slater made the find.
"Visitors were transported
to the nearby Henry Creek
where they observed DEH
staff emptying the contents
of a net that had been set
overnight to capture native
fish," Mr Slater said.
"DEH staff sifted through
the water to find the four
species of native fish that we
expected to found in Henry
Creek and were surprised
to also come across a Yarra
Pygmy Perch," he said.
Initially Mr Slater
thought the fish could have
been a hybrid with the
Southern Pygmy Perch,
but was amazed when it
was identified as the Yarra
Pygmy Perch by Native Fish
"Ensuring the survival of
these populations is a key
focus for DEH and we will
return to the site next month
to carry out a survey and
determine the most effective
way to conserve the Yarra
Mr Slater said the fish was
likely to have survived after
emergency water was pumped
into Henry Creek in 2006.
"At the time we thought
the emergency water didn't
help, but these fish are two
or three years old, which
indicates they have survived
because of that water."
Mr Slater said despite
a relatively low resilience
there was now a chance
the species could recover,
as two spawning fish were
able to produce hundreds of
"If the water remains at
high levels there's a pos-
sibility that the species will
be able to recover, but if it
drops by the end of the year
it wouldn't be possible."
Mr Slater said the Yarra
Pygmy Perch population
had declined as a result of
years of drought and did not
cope well with changes to its
"If anything occurs to
reduce flows into the stream
or take away input or to make
the water more salty, then it
is likely to have an adverse
impact on the species."
Wetland owner Pip
Rasenberg has been cam-
paigning against deep drains
planned for the area, which
she says will take water
away from the wetlands and
threaten the survival of
species including the Yarra
"It's a fantastic find, and it
will make people take notice
of the wetlands and what
they are going to do to them,"
Ms Rasenberg said.
"People at the open day
all said the same thing: 'We
hope nothing ever happens
Tiny discovery big surprise for marine ecologist
South Australia is
predicted to be facing
one of its worst
in the mid to high
30s expected this
weekend. But as
Farrin Foster reports,
we may not be
equipped for the job.
The tiny Yarra Pygmy Perch.
Links Archive October 29th 2009 November 2nd 2009 Navigation Previous Page Next Page