Reignited calls for 24-hour fire station for Whitsundays

THE fire that tore through the Whitsunday Shopping Centre complex has highlighted the importance of having a 24-hour fire station permanently service the Whitsunday region.

Members of the community raised the issue again following questions about auxiliary crews' response times and access to hydrants hampering the efforts to control Sunday night's blaze.

Maddy Mackenzie thanked the crews who responded, saying the "successfully brought a huge blaze under control without anyone getting seriously injured or hurt".

"If anyone has issues with how long it took local firies to get there they could express their concerns to the Queensland fire department who won't approve our area for a 7 day a week 24 hours a day fire station," she said.

"All firies from our area who attended were off duty, or auxiliaries. I thank the local firies for all their work and keeping everyone safe."

Ex auxiliary Tony Gatton agreed. "You have crews turning up to a premise that they may not be familiar with, trying to find water and get water onto the pump is not a fun thing to do in the dark."

EARLIER:

A former fire fighter and mines rescue officer had raised concerns over the time taken to control the blaze, describing how he attempted to put water on the fire before crews arrived.

The men's shed volunteer, who wished to be known only as Rod, had just finished having dinner at nearby Banjo's and was walking home when he saw "red sky".

"We got across the road, and there's a bloke who went to the teller at Suncorp and the alarm started going," Rod recalled.

"We thought he'd done something wrong with the teller machine, but as he walked out I thought I saw smoke coming out of Banjo's and I ran back there and realised it wasn't there. I thought the alarms must've just tripped.

"But I walked up the hill through the bus stop on Island Drive and there's red sky above me."

Rod spotted the fire in the Target Country warehouse, where he considered breaking in but thought he'd get in trouble with police.

"So I walked out and started looking for hydrants … there's one at the shoe shop straight out of Target, there's one around hanging on the wall near the toilet block, and then I thought 'well I can't get at the fire with any of those' so I went around and I thought there must be one around near the motor registry office and if anyone goes and has a look it's rolled up (like a mess) because it was night time and I just left that," he said.

 

The former fire-fighter described how he and another bystander located hoses and attempted to put out the fire until fire crews arrived.

"We were still throwing water at it as the alarms were going. I yelled out to a Buck's Seafood (staff member) on the phone (to 000) to tell them the fire was at the Target warehouse," Rod said.

"I had the hose on my shoulder and I kept on spraying and spraying until the ambulance came in, reversed back out, the police came in and told me to (leave) as the wall was going to fall in.

"And I said 'at least I'm throwing water on it, there's no fire brigade here yet at least I'm putting water on it'."

The Cannonvale resident questioned how long it took fire crews to begin dousing the blaze with water, estimating the time taken from when he first saw flames to when the water was turned on to be about 20 minutes.

"It'd be 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour from when we were there to when the fire brigade arrived," Rod explained.

"(When the police officer told me to get out of the way) I just turned it off and dropped the hose and walked away, and then I was standing there after the fire brigade arrived and they hadn't done anything for five or 10 minutes.

"I was scratching my head thinking the first thing we used to do when we came to a fire was the bloke who's driving the pumper, he gets out, he leaves the motor going, he's already switched it over to the pump at the back, the blokes know where the hydrant is, they grab a hose and connect it up, water on, and you fire it up just like that. That maybe adds another 30 seconds to it, that's about all."

Crews 'didn't know where the hydrants were'

Rod claims that he and other neighbours were pointing out the locations of the fire hydrants to the fire crews, saying they "didn't know where the hydrants were".

"(One officer) was about 50 metres from one of the hydrants so I walked over tapped him on the shoulder and said 'I'm not trying to be smart but there's a hydrant just there - those red posts you can see there' - I pointed it out to him," he said.

Rod described watching one pump turn on from a hydrant, but the water didn't even reach the fire.

"Later on I was talking to some friends and one bloke he's got a branch over his shoulder, which is what you screw into a hydrant and about 50m of hose and I just yelled out to him 'mate you'd know where the hydrants were if you did your checks every 12 months' because we used to go around and scour the hydrants out, dig all the stones out that would get into it so immediately you had a clean path to get in there, put your branch in it and off you went," he said.

"I honestly reckon, the only thing that should've burnt is Target."

An Island Drive resident watching the fire from her balcony said it took the fire brigade "the best part of 20 minutes" to arrive on scene.

"The station is at Jubilee Pocket, which is about five minutes drive in an emergency situation," she said.

Lyndel Turner agreed the fire-fighters' ability to fight the fire was "somewhat hampered" when they had difficulty finding hydrants.

"(But) this was made even harder as locals parked their cars along the shoulder of the streets, where the hydrants were located. Thankfully residents of the immediate area provided them with locations."

She suggested there should be a smartphone app linked with Google maps that could assist in the easy and fast access to hydrant locations.

QFES: 'crews reported no issues with hydrant access'

A QFES spokesperson said they were first alerted to the fire at the Whitsunday Shopping Centre by an automatic alarm activation at 7.11pm on Sunday, with several 000 calls following.

"The first fire crew arrived at the scene less than 14 minutes after the initial alarm activation and had access to water at the scene on arrival," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said QFES worked with building owners across Queensland to conduct fire safety inspections on a regular basis.

"Firefighters also take the opportunity to check safety systems and hydrants at public buildings when they are called to attend incidents," the spokesperson said.

"Fire crews last attended the Whitsunday Shopping Centre complex following an alarm activation on March 22, 2016 and checked the hydrants and booster cabinet while they were there.

"Public buildings are required to have several water sources and fire safety measures in place. In the event of a fire at a public building, if one system fails, other systems are used to ensure water is available to fire crews."

The spokesperson said the Whitsunday Shopping Centre complex had access to main water supply through several hydrants and crews reported no issue with access to hydrants at the scene.

"Outside of business hours initial response is provided by auxiliary firefighters and supported by permanent firefighters if required," the spokesperson said.

"As this fire was outside of business hours, auxiliary firefighters provided the initial response to the fire followed by permanent firefighters. Thirty-one firefighters attended the scene throughout the evening.

"QFES is comfortable with the current staffing model in the Whitsundays area. Twenty-four hour service is provided to the community through a combination of permanent and auxiliary fire resources."


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