Water spray systems, tested by us and evolved by state fire authorities, are protecting fire trucks and firefighters from burnovers.

Research into firetruck safety at the NSW Rural Fire Services’s Hot Test Fire Facility at Mogo NSW.

During this devastating bushfire season, media channels have shared footage of firefighters driving through raging fires. To escape the flames, firefighters have used spray systems and held up heat blankets to windows inside the cabin.

These terrifying moments when flames can overrun and burn over a fire truck are called flashover or burnover. And, while firefighters have strategies and operational procedures to minimise risk, these dangerous events still occur and can be fatal. Our research is helping firefighters survive these dire situations.

The road to crew protection from burnovers

Following some tragic burnovers in the late 1990s, the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) asked for our help.

We worked with them to develop safety parameters for fire trucks and to test the effectiveness of modifications like water sprays and shielding.

We designed a series of 24 tests carried out on two fire tankers at the RFS’s Hot Test Fire Facility at Mogo in New South Wales. Our testing used a number of gas burners to simulate the approach of a bushfire front and the burnover of the fire trucks. This simulator used our detailed knowledge of fire front characteristics and behaviour to accurately recreate burnover conditions similar to a real bushfire.

The simulator subjected the fire trucks to varying fire intensities while we recorded detailed measurements of radiation, temperature and toxic gases.

Burnovers testing on a firetruck. A bush scene with large flames. there are three metal boxes in the foreground

Data we collected during the fire tests informed new and better systems for crew protection.

New and better crew protection systems for burnovers

Data we collected during the Mogo tests informed new and better prototypes for crew protection. We tested these prototypes using worst-case burnover conditions in the simulator.

Field experiments in Tumbarumba NSW and Brucknell Park Victoria further validated the systems. These forest burnovers provided additional confidence in both the protection system design and the exposure conditions achieved in the simulator.

Since 2006, fire trucks now have key features to support safety and survival:

  • a ring of spray nozzles that deliver a ‘water curtain’ over the vehicles cabin
  • radiant heat shields or curtains for windows to block radiation from reaching the people in the cabin. These inclusions also provide an extra layer of protection if the windows break
  • water sprays to stop wheels and pumps catching alight
  • fire resistant covers for electrical, pumps, air intakes and air hoses.

Bushfire science supporting the nation

Our crew protection system testing is another example of how controlled experiments, science and innovation is helping safeguard people. The simulator has also been used to assess a wide range of other systems including houses, power poles, fences and water tanks.

7 comments

  1. The firies think the work being done and the system is great and thank the CSIRO scientists for their hard work everytime the system is used.

  2. This is wonderful. It must be terrifying as we have now seen vision of firefighters driving through flames. Making vehicles safer will save lives. We owe so much to the brave men and women on the firefront saving lives and property as well as looking out for wildlife at times. Good work CSIRO👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  3. We love the improvements. However, we would rather not be in the position to have to use these safety features in the first place.What also helps us to achieve this goal is foe everybody to leave an area when requested so we don’t have the additional pressure of knowing people are staying in what might not be defendable properties.

  4. New fire appliances are equipped with these safety features. However, many appliances are old and not properly equipped. In a recent TFS deployment to QLD, the trucks we were provided were old and had no fire blankets or heat shields. I guess it will take years for the fleet to be upgraded.

  5. Bigger question is “what do firies think?’, but looks good.

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