Damon Guy reckons contracted heavy plant is an unsung hero of bushfire suppression.

As a Plant Operations Manager responsible for organising and deploying bulldozers, timber harvesters and other machines during emergencies, he has first-hand understanding of the difference they can make on the fire line.

“In first attack, heavy plant like dozers and [tree] harvesters play a key role in fire suppression, just as they do in fire prevention work with maintaining fire breaks and tracks,” Damon said.

“They can hit the fire head-on, constructing mineral earth trails along the flanks of the fire and on spur-lines to try and contain the fire as quickly and safely as possible. And they can build tracks to safely get our specialist firefighting vehicles closer to the fire.

“We also use them for fallback lines, for when we can’t direct attack. That’s where we construct fire control lines and do backburning to try and control the fire as it approaches.

“Frontline plant does a lot of the heavy lifting and makes it easier for ground crews to get in and do their work.”

Damon Guy is a Forest Fire Operations Officer Technical Lead at DEECA's Heyfield office in Gippsland and his emergency role is as a Plant Operations Manager.

In his emergency role, Damon works with contractors, making sure they get their machines to the right place at the right time. It becomes a complex job during major bushfire incidents, with hundreds of individual pieces of plant being used at any given time.

“In 2019/20, for instance, there were over 300 items of plant being managed by Incident Management Teams in East Gippsland – and the plant manager has to coordinate that whole fleet. It gets to be a pretty big job,” he said.

“In Heyfield alone, we had machines coming from Bendigo, Cann River and Melbourne to support local resources. If they are available anywhere in the state, we have the capacity to call them in if needed.

“Externally contracted plant provides surge capacity we need during fires, complementing plant we have available within FFMVic.

Contractors we use are experienced and make a huge contribution to the work we do. There are around 400 contractors we can access on our panel, with well over 4000 items of plant registered.”

With big machines like bulldozers designed to move large amounts of earth and vegetation, protecting valuable sites of biodiversity and cultural heritage adds another layer of complexity to Damon’s work.

“There’s a lot of work done by the fire planning teams around biodiversity and cultural heritage values. For us, it’s a matter of knowing what sites are important and then we adapt a plan.”