What we do
The CFS is an all hazards agency. Every year our volunteers attend around 8,000 incidents, dedicating over 3 million hours to contribute to the safety and resilience of our communities.
We work alongside the SA Metropolitan Fire Service and State Emergency Service, and with local government to help with strategies for fuel reduction and to educate the community about bushfires and fire safety.
Aircraft support, firefighters suppress
Firefighters on the ground use aircraft and other aerial resources to help them fight bushfires. Firefighting aircraft, regardless of their size or type, do not extinguish a bushfire on their own.
If you live in a bushfire-prone area, you need to have a well-prepared bushfire survival plan. You cannot rely on a fire tanker or firefighting aircraft to be available to protect and defend your home.
To find out more read the Aerial Firefighting Fact Sheet
We have developed an aerial firefighting capability including:
- a fleet of aircraft
- trained and skilled pilots and aircrews
- volunteer airbase support personnel
- fixed and mobile infrastructure.
Our aircraft and aircrew personnel provide these tasks during bushfire fighting operations in South Australia:
- Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance – gathering bushfire information (including mapping). Incident management teams may use this for planning purposes. They may also use it to develop public safety information and/or emergency warnings.
- Supervision and Command – coordination and control of firebombing aircraft. This includes implementing strategies and tactics and monitoring their effectiveness and efficiency.
- Firebombing – aerial delivery of water and aerial firefighting products to reduce a bushfire's intensity or slow its spread to support ground firefighting operations.
- Aerial Ignition – ignition of vegetation fuels (to help back-burning or burning out operations) by dropping incendiary devices or materials from an aircraft.
- Crew Transport – transport of incident management, firefighting personnel and/or equipment by aircraft.
Some conditions can limit the effectiveness of aerial firefighting operations.
Warm atmospheric conditions
Aircraft operate more efficiently in denser air. As temperature increases, air density decreases. This has a dramatic effect on aircraft performance. On very hot days, aircraft may need to reduce their load capacities to operate safely. High air temperatures and low relative humidity will also reduce the overall effectiveness of firebombing operations on the ground as water content rapidly evaporates.
High-speed winds can reduce the effectiveness of firebombing operations.
If wind conditions are severe enough, we will suspend aerial firefighting operations until conditions improve.
All aerial firefighting operations are conducted according to Civil Aviation Regulations of Visual Flight Rules (VFR). This means the pilot must be able to see to avoid terrain and other aircraft, and to navigate by visual references. We may suspend aircraft operations in low visibility conditions until conditions improve and pilots are able to operate under VFR regulations.
Low visibility may also reduce the effectiveness of firebombing operations as targets and hazards in the fire area become obscured or undetectable. This makes conditions unsafe for aircraft to operate. Reduced visibility from fog, dust, smoke or cloud may also restrict aircraft from taking off and landing at an airbase.
Flights at night
Civil Aviation Regulations do not allow firebombing operations at night. All VFR operations must commence and conclude between first and last light.
For extra safety, CFS Standard Operating Procedures need all aircraft to be "on the ground" 30 minutes before last light, ensuring adequate time to safely return to an appropriate airbase.
Availability of ground support resources
Firebombing operations are only effective if followed up with intense firefighting activities by ground firefighting crews.
The main objectives of firebombing are to knockdown a fire edge, slow or halt its rate of spread, long enough for ground crews to access the fire line and mop up or supplement the knockdown process.
If ground crews cannot get to the fire edge due to terrain or access, then the fire will rekindle over time.
Vertical obstructions close to a fire area may limit aerial firefighting operations. Obstructions might include:
- power lines
- weather masts
- radio and television transmission towers
- tall trees
- wind turbines
Where obstructions do exist, the pilot in command will undertake a dynamic risk assessment before the aircraft is committed. In some circumstances, aircraft will not be utilised because risks caused by vertical obstructions exceed safe operating conditions.
Our aerial firefighting fleet includes 26 contracted aircraft.
We do not own any of the aircraft in our aerial firefighting fleet. We contract aircraft for exclusive use service periods during the Fire Danger Season. International organisations have found that owning and operating aircraft is not economical, particularly when the aircraft are used on a seasonal basis (approx. 5 months of the year). Contracting aircraft over short periods (generally 3-5 years) allows us to be flexible with the selection, composition and placement of aircraft within our fleet. We can also embrace new aerial firefighting technologies and maximise financial resources.
The firebombing aircraft fleet includes:
- 14 x Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs)
- 2 x Type 1 (High Volume) Helicopter
This gives us an adaptable fleet of aircraft that are suited to a diverse range of fire conditions.
Single Engine Air Tankers (Air Tractor AT-802)
When selecting aircraft for the aerial firefighting fleet, we consider:
- how quickly the aircraft can be airborne
- its capacity to operate from a short rough strip
- its ability to be flown safely in steep terrain
- its bombing capacity
- the availability of skilled pilots
- its cost-effectiveness.
The AT-802 fits all of these criteria. It is the largest single engine firefighting air tanker in the world today. This aircraft is a modern, turboprop initial attack air tanker that is fast, manoeuvrable and cost-effective. It perfectly complements our rapid initial attack philosophy.
Type 1 (High Volume) Helicopter (Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk)
The Black Hawks can carry 4,500 litres of water and firefighting chemicals and can refill from open water sources in less than 60 seconds.
The FT4500 'belly' tanks on the helicopters can also be replaced with 3,400 litre Bambi Bucket systems for specialised operations.
The Black Hawks have a cruising speed of 230 km/h and be underway in less than 5-minutes.
The Black Hawks will primarily operate as a combined duo, with the ability to separate them for individual missions on the rare occasions they are required in different locations.
Since the devastating Wangary fire on Eyre Peninsula and the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, timely and accurate community information on the status of bushfires has become much more important.
Surveillance aircraft play an important support role in gathering information needed for us to provide safety information and emergency warnings to the public.
These aircraft also play an important role in the safe and efficient command and coordination (Air Attack Supervision) of firebombing operations.
Our tactical coordination and strategic overview aircraft fleet includes:
- 8 x helicopters
- 2 x aeroplanes
We have a team of over 150 volunteer support personnel across South Australia. They:
- set up and manage our aerial firefighting airbases
- load single engine air tanker aircraft with suppressants and/or retardants
- provide logistical support to heli tack aircraft like the Erickson Air-crane
- provide welfare support to pilots and other aerial firefighting personnel.
All firebombing aircraft in the CFS fleet have the ability to drop water with aerial firefighting product additives.
We add Aerial Firefighting Products or suppression chemical additives to water to increase the effectiveness of firebombing drops. There are 3 classes of these products:
- foam suppressants
- water enhancers
- long-term retardants.
We use a range of approved and commercially available products in each of the 3 classes.
We will only use products approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA maintains a highly specialised, comprehensive laboratory and field-testing program - the Wildland Fire Chemical System. The program tests products before their qualification and approval for use, for:
- human and environmental toxicity
- handling safety
- corrosion of aircraft components
Fire Suppressant Foam
Fire suppressant foams are a combination of wetting, foaming and surfactant agents (commonly used in shampoos and detergents), added to water. This improves its effectiveness through increased retention on vegetation fuel surfaces and reduced evaporation. We use foam to "knock down" a fire’s intensity to allow ground resources access to the fire edge.
Water enhancers, often referred to as gels, increase the viscosity, adherence ability, cooling time and wetting capability of water dropped onto vegetation by aircraft.
These products can also improve firebombing drop accuracy through reduced wind drift.
We use water enhancers as an alternative to foam for direct attack to knock down a fire. They are particularly effective in scrub or forest vegetation.
Long-term retardants contain mineral salts that inhibit the vegetation's ability to ignite. They are designed to place on fuels ahead of a fire to stop or reduce the fire from spreading. Retardants remain effective even after the water in the mixture has evaporated. They are ineffective if a fire is spotting. The red colouring in the product is an iron oxide colorant. It allows pilots to see drops on vegetation from the air. It will eventually wash away after rain or break down over time with UV light exposure.
Rapid Initial Attack Strategy
Key findings in research undertaken by the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) determined
"… for aircraft to provide effective assistance, they must be available at call, rapidly dispatched with minimal travel, and with logistical systems in place".
Since the mid-1990s, we have established procedures for the safe and efficient response of aerial firefighting resources to bushfires. These are based on an aggressive rapid initial attack strategy. Under this strategy, we have set up specific Primary Response Zones (PRZs) across South Australia.
PRZs are geographical areas where uncontrolled grass or bushfires may have serious consequences on life, community property, critical infrastructure, environmental or commercial assets.
We identified 4 PRZs for South Australia. These include parts of the:
- Mount Lofty Ranges (MLR)
- Lower Eyre Peninsula (LEP)
- Lower South East (LSE)
- Mid North (MN).
The size of PRZs are generally based on distances of no greater than a 50km radius from a nominated airbase, and flight times of less than 15 minutes to ensure initial attack success.
We place firebombing and surveillance aircraft on active standby during peak periods of the Fire Danger Season at airbases at:
- Brukunga (MLR)
- Port Lincoln (LEP)
- Mount Gambier (LSE)
- Hoyleton (MN).
The main function of these aircraft is the:
- rapid and early attack of developing grass and bushfires
- provision of early and timely advice to the public.
Aircraft on active standby are dispatched to any reported rural fire in PRZs. At the same time, we send the nearest CFS brigade.
The standard aircraft response is 2 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), and 2 surveillance aircraft.
The initial dispatch of aircraft can be supported with the response of more firebombing aircraft if needed.
All areas outside of defined PRZs are considered the State Response Zone (SRZ). The main function of aerial firefighting aircraft in the SRZ is to aid ground resources to contain larger fires and/or protect specific assets, and provide accurate and timely advice to the public.
Aerial firefighting aircraft are not strategically located in this zone for rapid initial attack. The aircraft respond based on a specific request by an Incident Controller and approved at a state level.
We may pre-position aircraft in these areas based on exceptional predicted weather conditions to reduce response times.
The CFS has established a network of over 40 strategic fixed-wing airbases and 13 helibases to support aircraft responses to high-risk bushfire areas of South Australia. These include:
- Kangaroo Island
- Mount Lofty Ranges
- Fleurieu Peninsula
- Lower and Upper South-East
- Murray Mallee
- Mid North
- Flinders Ranges
- Eyre Peninsula.
Firebombing is a demanding task for pilots. Pilots have to fly at low-level in reduced visibility and near other firefighting aircraft. If non-firefighting aircraft enter a bushfire area this makes their task more dangerous.
Air Services Australia (ASA) issues a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) annually to alert pilots to the safety issues associated with bushfires and the presence of aerial firefighting aircraft.
The NOTAM needs all aircraft that are not coordinated through the relevant state fire authority to remain clear of observed fires for a distance of 5 nautical miles and altitude of 3,000 ft above ground level.
Pilots are responsible for obtaining NOTAM information. This is available on the Air Services Australia website.
Ownership of recreational remote piloted aircraft (RPA) or drones has increased over recent years.
A small drone colliding with the tail rotor or engine intake of a helicopter or propeller of a fixed wing aircraft could cause the aircraft to crash.
If you operate a drone, you must comply with regulations, whether you are flying them for recreation or commercial purposes.
View information on the regulations for flying drones at Civil Aviation Safety Authority
If we detect a drone operating near a fire, we may suspend aerial firefighting operations until we consider it safe to resume. If we suspend aerial firefighting operations, we will instigate an immediate media alert to ask the operator to stop, or members of the community aware of the operator, to contact police.
We call the fire engines, trucks and other emergency service vehicles we use "appliances".
Currently we have a fleet of 784 vehicles in use throughout the State. These include tankers, urban pumpers, pumper/tankers, bulk water carriers, rescue and command vehicles.
We aim to replace our appliances before the end of their twentieth year in service. Since 2000, we have been replacing appliances with air-conditioned Crew Cab/Chassis.
These Chassis provide a greater level of comfort for volunteers when travelling to and from incidents and during training exercises. This design gives the crew the opportunity to discuss strategies and tactics to use on arrival at the incident and for the Officer to give clear instructions to the crew.
We look for continuous improvement on previous year’s models when specifying new appliances. Each year there may be some variations to the detail of appliances but the basic layout of the lockers and tray area has changed little in recent years.
We operate in a continuous improvement environment. Our appliances have evolved over time and continue to do so.
Some notable improvements that have been achieved since the 1980s include:
- Improved crew protection including:
- Air conditioned dual cab appliances
- Heat reflective roll down blinds in vehicle cabins
- Water spray protection for the vehicle cabin
- Fresh air breathing system for vehicle cabin occupants
- Improved design of the crew protection system on the rear firefighting platform
- Improved pumping performance
- Hose reels mounted above the tray to reduce the incidence of damage from rough terrain
- All equipment is accessible from ground level, no need to pass items down from the tray
- Improved emergency vehicle lighting, i.e. Red and Blue lights, headlight flashing system
- Siren speakers mounted near bumper bar height
- Electric rewind hose reels
- Increased hose reel length from 30 metres to 60 metres.
- Quick release (1/4 turn) hose couplings for small bore hose (25mm)
- Improved steps for access and egress from the appliance
- Class A foam systems installed on all firefighting appliances
- All steps and hand rails etc are coloured safety yellow
- Radiant heat shielding fitted to protect chassis components from flame
- Fire protection sleeving to protect critical elements of the chassis from fire
- Improved ergonomics around appliances in general
In all cases, evolutionary improvements result in improved firefighter safety, either directly (crew protection systems) or indirectly (reduced firefighter fatigue).
Appliance replacement process
We try to maintain an appliance age profile of 20 years maximum and replace appliances approaching or at this age.
The process for purchasing new appliances is conducted via a 'Closed Tender' in which pre-qualified suppliers are invited to tender. This process occurs over three main parts:
- Closed Tenders are called for the supply of new cab chassis
- Closed Tenders are called for the supply of new pumps
- After we have decided on the chassis´ and pumps, we call for tenders for the construction of appliance bodies.
We use a risk management approach to determine the number and type of appliances that we place in any given fire station. The CFS Standards of Fire and Emergency Cover (SFEC) outlines this approach. The SFEC prescribes a minimum level of volunteer staffing and equipment for each CFS Brigade.
There is recognition that community situations change from time to time and therefore the SFEC incorporates a process that enables CFS Brigades to seek a variation to the SFEC Brigade Prescription. A variation to a Brigade's prescription may result in an increase in the level of resources provided to that Brigade to support the effort to protect the community. SFEC variations must be approved by the CFS Strategic Leadership Group.
CFS is the Control Agency for emergencies involving hazardous materials within any area of South Australia outside of a Metropolitan Fire District.
A hazardous materials (HazMat) incident is an incident involving the actual or pending release of a hazardous material in sufficient quantity as to pose a risk to life, property or the environment.
As the Control Agency, CFS has the legislated responsibility to take control of a hazardous materials incident and use its resources to contain the incident and render it safe.
CFS has 33 brigades strategically located across South Australia who are equipped and trained to respond to incidents involving hazardous materials.
This includes various levels of Chemical Protective Clothing, Atmospheric Monitoring equipment and equipment to contain, neutralise or normalise a HazMat incident.
Our firefighters that are trained in HazMat are called HazMat Operators.
CFS has 6 brigades across the state who are equipped and trained to HazMat Technician level. This capability, uses a dedicated HazMat truck and provides a greater level of atmospheric monitoring and detection equipment, and further supplies of Chemical Protective Clothing.
When responding to HazMat incidents, CFS works closely with partner agencies and organisations to minimise the risk to the community and the environment.
Safer Pacific Communities Program
In 2016 the Country Fire Service was approached to mentor the development of a fire and emergency service for the Republic of Kiribati, as part of a twinning partnership. Kiribati is an independent island nation in the South Pacific (Oceania) with a population of about 120,000 people living on a total of 32 atolls and one island, spread across 3,300 kilometres of South Pacific Ocean.
Kiribati is classified among the least developed countries in the world; this is primarily due to Kiribati’s remoteness, small population, limited resource base and entire population living in low coastal zones, as well as a large reliance on fishing revenues within the region.
Similar to other Pacific countries, Kiribati’s geographical location makes it prone to natural disasters, while its lack of capacity, technology, and resources reduces its ability to respond to unpredictable catastrophic challenges. Common hazards and disasters affecting the nation include droughts, extreme heat, fire, epidemics, tsunamis, flooding, and cyclones. High tidal changes affect the capital, where large fluctuations of 0.5 metres in sea level can cause houses to be washed away when high tides come in. Furthermore, physical exposure to climate change leaves it vulnerable to rising sea levels, projected to rise by 7-17cm by 2030, which will further affect coastal infrastructure over 80% of Kiribati’s population live in low-lying coastal areas.
With one of the highest population densities in the Asia Pacific, Kiribati had a quickly growing reason to upgrade their domestic fire and emergency service capability.
The fire service in 2016 was centred around formally uncoordinated efforts, directed by the police, with the resources of several government departments, and supported by civilians and a water carting vehicle and, if available, the assistance of the Kiribati Airport Rescue and Fire Service.
An opportunity existed to create an overarching service and management framework to best suit the islands for all kinds of emergencies.
Under the guidance of former CFS Chief Officer Greg Nettleton and Deputy Commander Matt Davis, the CFS developed a plan for the creation of an all-hazards whole of nation service for the Republic of Kiribati.
The CFS has started this plan by supplying four fire trucks and firefighting equipment from our South Australian fleet. Along with these fire trucks, CFS has provided VHF radios, smart phones and laptop computers to be utilised within their Emergency Operations Centre. CFS has trained 50 of Kiribati’s Government personnel to a basic level for defensive firefighting operation only. These trained personnel are fully kitted out with firefighting personal protective clothing (PPC).
A community education program has also been developed and implemented for the islands to help the general population be aware of and prepared for fire risks, through their already existing programmes in country.
CFS is currently planning to provide Road Crash Rescue and Incident Management training for the Kiribati Fire and Emergency Service and members of their government, with more fire trucks and equipment along with PPC.