ESF Volunteer Leaders Forum 2013

Hi all,

I attended the ESF Volunteer Leaders Forum 2013 as a delegate from Bush Search and Rescue Victoria. Part of the forum was information sessions at the Pullman Hotel in Albert Park, but we also headed out on a few field trips.

Dealing with Traumatic Events

Any kind of emergency volunteer work is going to invariably deal with adverse outcomes. In the case of BSAR, this would be where a search is unsuccessful. Traumatic events can also occur during search, with families of the lost dealing with the reality of the outcome being uncertain. Searchers themselves can be witness to this. When searches are unsuccessful, one cannot help but know what has happened, and few of us are completely able to disconnect from this.

Presentations from Life Saving Victoria alerted me to research from The Australian Centre for Post-Traumatic Mental Health, and this is leading to change in the way potentially traumatic events are managed within the volunteer services. When I get time, I would like to have a look at some of their material. They have a free DVD on their site available to the public.

Recovery of war dead at Fromelles

Next up was an inspiring presentation from Lambis Englezos about the personal trials he faced, and at times official contempt, in order to find the missing fallen from the Battle of Fromelles in World War 1. The wikipedia link goes into much greater detail about the battle, and Lambis’s difficulties, but his story shows the value of perseverance. A number of people in the audience have personal links to people involved at Fromelles – which shows that events that occurred in World War 1 cannot today be considered “ancient history” but remain very real today.

State Control Centre

After a few more speakers, including Craig Lapsley – Fire Services Commissioner, our group headed out to East Burwood to the backup State Control Centre, with the primary being closed on that day. Here’s a look at the main control room (some numbers have been cut out of the picture)

Backup State Control Centre at East Burwood

Backup State Control Centre at East Burwood

This facility is used during major fire and flood events, but BSAR activity would generally not be controlled from here.

Police Academy

Next up was a trip to the Police Academy in Glen Waverley. It is a large campus that has been used by Police since the early 70s. We were shown past the parade ground (which cannot be entered except during official events in official capacity – a long-standing military and Police tradition) to a mock town used for scenario training. There was a mock train station, presumably used for scenarios involving trains. We were introduced to some of the equipment used by the Special Operations Group. Apart from all the weaponry and discussion about the high level of fitness needed by members of the squad, we also had a look at this toy:

Police SOG counter terrorism vehicle

Police SOG counter terrorism vehicle

This vehicle is essentially immune from small arms fire, can bust down walls and has many other features of assistance to the squad. One of these is a normal FM radio so we could listen to Essendon playing GWS while we checked out the vehicle. The groups that headed up on the Sunday did not get to see this thing as it was out “on a job”. Perhaps it would not be a good thing to be anywhere near the location of this “job”. I would say that it is unlikely to see this thing on a BSAR search if for nothing else that it is easy for its 9 tonnes of weight to get bogged on the soft tracks normally encountered there.

One interesting little device they had in the box next to the vehicle is a little remote control drone less than 20cm long that can be used to crawl into a building and provide a video feed back to a controller who can be situated in the vehicle.

Also in the mock village is a number of houses used for Police to practice entries into premises. This door pictured below has clearly had a number of busts over time:

Scenario house at Police Academy Glen Waverley

Scenario house at Police Academy Glen Waverley

Now, on a different note, the academy has a large chapel. The facility was once a Catholic monastery, but a number of members of the force have provided skills and time to have the area reopened as a non-denominational chapel. The flag in the left of this picture is the Victoria Police flag.

Victoria Police Academy Chapel

Victoria Police Academy Chapel

MFB displays at Burnley

After the time at the academy, we headed back towards town to arrive at MFB’s large facility at Burnley. I never knew of the existence of Urban Search and Rescue before today, which shows the value of these events. USAR is a multi-agency service largely set up by MFB, but provides services to any agency that requires it. There was a large number of MFB toys on display:

USAR vehicle

USAR vehicle

After following the example of others, I decided to get my photo taken in the driver’s seat of an MFB truck:

MFB truck

MFB truck

USAR have a device that can detect faint motion behind concrete structures. The device shown below even detected vibrations in the concrete slab caused by people talking:

Motion detection device

Motion detection device

There were a number of camera devices that could be used to provide video of places inaccessable to the contoller. Many of these would be highly useful in exploring collapsed structures for the purposes of finding people inside:

Remote control wire camera

Remote control wire camera

This device had a camera at the end of a cable. The camera could move around based on a joystick available to the controller. The cost of this device is over $60,000.

Life Saving Victoria

The next day, it was off to Life Saving Victoria and we first looked at their main helicopter. They also lease a second helicopter during the summer months. This vehicle is used for static line retrievals of people from the water. Being a static line, people are not winched back into the vehicle, but carried back to shore. Typically this is over a distance of 500m or less.

Here’s the cockpit:

Cockpit of Westpac Rescue helicopter

Cockpit of Westpac Rescue helicopter

Some of the attachments for the static line:

Static Line attachments to the Westpac helicopter

Static Line attachments to the Westpac helicopter

Life Saving Victoria operate a comms control centre at their Port Melbourne facility. They use 32 FM channels, comprising of some their own frequencies and VHF marine. There are UHF repeaters which give service to patrolled beaches and then carried back over IP to the control centre. The centre can patch several channels together as desired. Traffic consists of “sign on, sign off” notification and management of emergency events, such as dispatch of resources such as helicopters. There is effort to remove the non-emergency traffic from the radio channels to the internet.

Life Saving Victoria comms control centre

Life Saving Victoria comms control centre

Air Ambulance Victoria

After Life Saving Victoria, it was time to head up to Essendon Airport for a look at Air Ambulance Victoria’s main base. They operate four fixed wing aircraft and five helicopters. The four fix-winged craft are all Beechcraft B200 King Airs. Here’s one in for service:

Beechcraft B200 being serviced

Beechcraft B200 being serviced

One attraction of this aircraft is the larger door configuration for loading a stretcher. Part of the access structure is stored in a cavity in the wing.

Cargo door of a Beechcraft 200 open ready for loading of a patient

Cargo door open ready for loading of a patient

Here’s a look inside the aircraft:

Looking foward in the Beechcraft

Looking foward in the Beechcraft

Five rotary wing aircraft are operated, and these are typically used for transports closer into Melbourne (eg Ballarat, Bendigo, etc) where it can be faster to use these craft. Most of these craft are operated from elsewhere, such as HEMS2 (HELIMED) from near Morwell. Often, delivery can be made straight to receiving hospitals, which is not possible with fixed wing aircraft. Here is HEMS5 only about 10 minutes before it was deployed for a job.

HEMS5 a few minutes before deployment

HEMS5 a few minutes before deployment

The aircraft are fitted with winches, seen below. One example of use of this capability was a rescue of a fallen walker near Eagle Peaks a number of years ago:

Winch on HEMS1

Winch on HEMS1

As Essendon Airport is controlled airspace, the helicopters have to take off using the taxiways and runways, like a fixed wing aircraft:

HEMS5 "taxing" at Essendon Airport

HEMS5 “taxing” at Essendon Airport

All in all, a very interesting two days. Not everything is directly relevant to searching,but informative none the less.

Regards,
Wayne Merry

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Eagle Peaks and The Governor – part 2

Hi all,

I have had the phone fixed, and obtained some pictures from the recent trip where I activated Eagle Peaks VK3/VE-045 and The Governor VK3/VE-046. The earlier post can be found here.

On the way out, there were some good views of the south side of Mt Buller, which still good, but softening, snow cover. The picture was taken in early dusk.
Mt Buller southern side

I activated Eagle Peaks, but it was dark by the time I arrived there. Here was a look at the summit the following morning:
Eagle Peaks summit

On the way to The Governor, I headed down to Lickhole Gap. I was amazed at the amount of trees that had come down in recent months. This was a bit of a theme throughout this trip:
Fallen trees at Lickmore Gap

I eventually made it to The Governor. The first picture here shows the summit, including part of the end-fed antenna. The second picture was taken from a nearby knoll. At that stage, the clouds had lifted a little, allowing photos of more distant objects.
The Governor summit, activating with an end-fed for 20 and 40.

Snow on the southern side of The Governor

Hope you enjoy the pics. 73, Regards Wayne VK3WAM

Quick note: The correct spelling of VK3/VE-046 is The Governor, not The Govenor, so it is spelt as one would initially expect.

Eagle Peaks and The Govenor VK3/VE-045 & VE-046

Hi all,

It had been over a month since my last SOTA activation, and so I thought it time to put aside my CW rig design adventures and get my hands dirty (or is that scratched) out in the field. I had been to Eagle Peaks before, last time was on a Bush Search and Rescue Victoria expedition to help rescue a guy who had fallen off a cliff. For this trip, I would need to go near that same cliff. Better be careful.

Here is a map of the area, and my route taken in red:
Map of route taken to access Eagle Peaks and The Govenor

Eagle Peaks VK3/VE-046

I set off Thursday (20th Sept) in the afternoon, but was a little delayed. I got to the parking spot at Eight Mile Gap just before sunset, and headed off on an hour and half walk to Eagle Peaks, with the last 3/4 of an hour in the dark. The track had actually had some work since the last time I was there, with the fire undergrowth slashed back. This was a hint as to what was to come later, which made me think that my initial plan for 6 summits might be a little difficult.

I arrived at Eagle Peaks at 7:30pm and quickly set up tent and strung out a new end fed wire for 20/40 with a matchbox to 50 ohms. There is a tuning stub a little less than half way for 20m. SWR was around 1.5 to 2 around 7.03, 7.09 and 14.06. I’ll need to look into this a little later to see if I can get this down a little more. I am not into trying to get 1.00001 SWR, but I would like it below 1.5 as then associated losses are minimal. I should not expect fantastic results here, considering the wire is only a few metres off the ground, strung up by trees. I used some rope at the end insulator to attach to an end tree.

I worked 5 stations on 40m fairly quickly. Nothing heard on 20m.

The Govenor VK3/VE-046

The DSE map has this spelt Govenor, rather than Governor – so I’ll take that as ok for now, although they are not always right with place names.

After seeing the slashed undergrowth on the way to Eagle Peaks the previous evening, I thought I need as much time as possible to get to The Govenor as it might be tough going. I awoke at 6am the next morning to rain showers and in the clouds. Visibility was at 50m. There would be a lot of map and compass today. First task was not to fall off the cliff at the same place the hiker did a few years ago, so I traversed to the east of the cliff. The ground was very steep, and it would be hard to go up the other way. I was amazed, when approaching Lickhole Gap, how many fallen trees there were. Many had come down only a few months ago, some snapped halfway up the trunk. It is expected that there are fallen trees around, but this was a large number. There was a major wind storm during the winter that affected an activation of Mt Bullfight, see here, and I think that many of these fallen trees came down from the same wind event. I hope to be able to access some of the pictures I took from my damaged camera phone – but we will see.

I found a track cut to Mt Darling which came in from the west. I used this for a bit, but it started to go down the hill to the north west. I presume it comes from somewhere near Sheepyard flat, but I was not going that way. It is not marked on any of the maps I had seen, but it is clearly intended to be there as the undergrowth had been slashed. In any case it only helped me out for a few hundred metres. 😦

From this track, I made my way down to the saddle between Mt Darling and The Govenor. Funny that there is a track to Mt Darling, but not The Govenor; it is a much higher summit. I arrived a little late to plan and began to activate. I quickly got 10 contacts on 40m SSB. I put out a number of calls on 20m, CW. I heard NS7P come back very weakly, it would have been a 219 contact. I got his call sign wrong with the QSB, he sent it back and I was good to go, but then he was gone. Either he had to stop operating or conditions had turned.

My observations about this end fed antenna so far is that it is much better for local contacts on 40. A good 2 S points or above, looking at my logs based on reports. That is nominally 12dB, but given the “compression” many rigs give on their S meter reports, I’ll take it to be about 6dB above my vertical. Where my vertical is streets ahead is on DX. I would say a good 15dB or more ahead. Shame that the vertical is not as convenient – particularly stringing out all of the radials.

Onward I say

So running a bit behind schedule, I decided to drop the attempt to go to VK3/VE-075 and head for Mt Sunday instead to camp for the night. I thought it would take about 7 or so hours to get there. I headed down along a route to quickly get to the river and then access a track about 200m up the other side.

I then hit the bad undergrowth, and this was a shocker. Progress became very slow, and with the saplings 4 to 5m high, I had to continuously use the compass to have any sense of direction. I was using a phone as a GPS, but all the spray from the undergrowth got into the phone holder, and water damaged the phone. No more GPS. Lucky I had a print out of the map on board, because that was now my only reference with the compass. I have done plenty of rogaines, so I am quite comfortable navigating by map and compass.

The undergrowth was so bad, I decided to chance it going down a watercourse that was quite open. You can see where this happened on the map where my track heading down from The Govenor heads to the north. The first part was ok, but once at the valley floor, it was bad. I expected it to be bad, but I thought it could not be as bad as the undergrowth up top. It was even worse. I have done these kinds of creek traverses on BSAR searches before, but this one would easily be the worst. It was made particulally bad by all of the recent tree felling by that wind storm. There were hundreds of mature living trees fallen. I have never seen anything like it. I expect dead trees burnt by fire to come down, but not many living mature trees. The shame about this was that these trees might have been spared by loggers over one hundred years ago, but many are taken out just a few months ago.

After more than 7 hours, I finally made it to the river at 7:30pm, completely exhausted. I was to watch an “Australian Story” about John Cantor’s traverse of the Brookes Range in Alaska when I got home. When conditions were against him, he had a meltdown at one point. I must admit that I can relate, as I had a meltdown when I was about 400m up from the river where I began to wonder if I could actually get out of this trap, or if I would be getting out my radio to call “MAYDAY MAYDAY this is VK3WAM”. Of course, with food and the rest on board, I would only be able to do this if I had broken a leg, but out of the many times I fell over trying to get down to the river, there was one time I thought, oooh that was close.

Moral of the story: Even if it is bad up on the ridge top, stay there, because the creek will be worse.

Getting out

After making the river, I set up camp, had some dinner. I put up the end fed antenna, but in a steep valley on both sides, not too much signal gets out. It might work during the day when the skip on 40 is not so bad, but signals are well down at the bottom of the valley compared to the mountain top. I could not work anyone from down there, but I could at least listen to Sydney vs Collingwood football game.

I awoke early for the next day, with the first priority simply to get out of here. I still hoped to activate Mt McDonald, but a fall back option could be The Bluff. The first task was to cross the river. The level was quite high and I had to abort my first crossing attempt. After going up stream for 200m, I found a suitable crossing point where it was only about 80cm deep, even if fairly fast flowing. The walking pole helped enormously here as it had been doing most of the trip. It was tough to get out of the immediate valley area, but then the forest opened up. There was still plenty of undergrowth, but there were actually bare patches from time to time, and even grass on the ground! Actually seeing the ground was a moral lifter! It took another hour to get to the road.

Given all of the effort, Mt McDonald was going to have to wait for another trip. Instead, it was time to head for the car. This still took about 5 hours walking on the track. I was pretty tired with the backpack on. If I was to activate something, it would need to be with just a small light pack. I made the car, and then drove to Refrigerator Gap underneath The Bluff. Unfortunately, the track head is not at the saddle, but a little further up along the road. I was a little too tired to realise this at the time, so perhaps it was best just to head for home. In the end, I had two summits and 22 SOTA points in the bag. Now to get the phone fixed, and perhaps I can put up some photos. Looks like the remote locking on my car key does not work either!

Regards 73, Wayne VK3WAM