Women to operate Canberra's fire towers for the first time

22 Deceember 2016

published by http://www.canberratimes.com.au


Australia     High above the ground, they're the eyes keeping Canberra safe this summer.

As conditions heat up in the capital, ACT Parks and Conservation workers will be manning Canberra's four fire towers, searching for the signs of potential bushfires.

However, this year will be the first time women will be on the frontline in looking for the fires from the tower.

Kirsty Babington is one of three women who will be operating the towers throughout the fire season.

While modern technology has allowed for better fire monitoring, she said there is no substitute for a good pair of eyes in the sky.

"It's important to have a person up there and being able to see the fire first hand and you're sure that it's 100 per cent correct," she said.

"If you can see the smoke you can see how the fire is changing and keep recording that information that's reliable."

Armed with binoculars, a map and a ruler, an average day would see the seasonal firefighter man the tower between midday and 6pm.

However, on days of extreme fire danger, she would be on the lookout for fires for more than 12 hours.

As well as scanning for and locating bushfires in Canberra and surrounding areas, Ms Babington said her duties also involve communicating with watchers in other fire towers.

"We either have two, or all four fire towers running at the same time and you can communicate between the towers and confirm a sighting," she said.

"That information goes to the communication centre where we're able to triangulate exactly where the fire is.

"One of my main duties is also to report the data to the communication centre every hour."

This is the first time in 10 years ACT Parks and Conservation will be operating the fire towers, having secured the contract for them from a private company.

Fire management officer Simon Bretherton said 12 staff will be manning the towers during the fire season.

"It's good to see that there's an increasing amount of female participation in this line of work," he said.

"It's the first time in a decade that park officers have taken on responsibility for operating the fire towers and one of our outcomes is to be able to train more female staff."

With wet conditions around the ACT in winter and spring creating more fuel in bushland, Ms Babington said a severe fire season could be on the cards for Canberra.

"Fuel levels have grown much larger, and as soon as things dry out, there is still all that growth in bushland," she said.

"That's why it's important to have us in the fire tower so we're able to spot a fire straight away."