The Lord Mayor's Bushfire Appeal Churchill Fellowship to examine contemporary methods for managing bushfires that directly threaten the urban environment - USA, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece

Chris Arnol has been a volunteer and professional fire officer for some 35 years. He is married to Sally, a Prison Officer and former Police Officer; they have two adult children, one a teacher, the other a musician. Sally is into health and fitness and Chris is keen artist. They currently live in Perth Western Australia.

Chris was awarded his Churchill Fellowship whilst in Tasmania for studies into urban interface firefighting in 2007. Based on his studies Chris then introduced new operational doctrine in Tasmania Fire Service and has been working at a national level on standardising defensive (property protection) firefighting operations.

In late 2009 Chris took a senior post in Western Australia; the largest single emergency services jurisdiction on earth. He is now an Assistant Commissioner with the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (formally FESA). Although part of the Corporate Leadership Team his specific responsibilities relate to regional Western Australia, where he oversees operations of the SES, Fire & Rescue Service and Bush Fire Service. This involves some 30,000 volunteers. He now gets involved in cyclones and floods as well as fires.

Since moving to Western Australia his attention has been on implementing various recommendations of major bushfire inquiries and driving the reform agenda his organisation is undertaking but he has managed to introduce new Rural/urban Interface firefighting doctrine and a DVD for all firefighters. He is now arranging for bushfire training programs to be refined. ChrisConference



Fires on the urban/bush interface remain one of the greatest challenges facing Australia today. These fires can threaten multiple dwellings very quickly and often overwhelm emergency services. Our urban sprawl expands relentlessly into the landscape and climate change experts are predicting longer and more intense summer bushfire seasons. Urban interface fires are a major problem that is simply not going to go away.

These Urban interface fires are dynamic, high consequence, complex emergencies where traditional structural and bush firefighting practices don’t necessarily apply. However, fire agencies in the US and Europe have developed specific firefighting strategies and methods to deal with these fires and I visited them to see what we could learn.




Chris’ research concludes that a re-think of urban interface firefighting is in order and a lot can be achieved by simply enhancing current firefighting approach with contemporary urban interface practices that he found overseas.

From this the Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) agreed to adopt the following:

  • Map the Urban Interface Hazard and control urban developments in proportion to the level of hazard.
  • Communicate there is a ‘Danger Zone’ to people living on the UI and what they should do to prepare, stay and defend their homes
  • Create response plans for the UI risk in cities and towns
  • Seek Commonwealth funding for fuel reduction/modification programs
  • Increase standard initial response to urban interface fires and use strike teams in routine operational response
  • Write a manual of UI firefighting practices
  • Train all firefighters in UI operations, tactics and techniques
  • identify teams that will support residents during bushfires and conduct UI drills in residential areas
  • Create UI Interagency working group to plan future operations
  • Organise multi-agency patrols on days of Total Fire Ban

Since then, along with others, Chris has approached the Australasian Fire Authorities Council to standardise fire agency approaches to defensive firefighting during urban interface fires.

The following is an extract of an operating procedure which give the reader a idea of the detail and standardised procedures Chris has been advocating that fire authorities are now generally employing.

  1. Crews involved in structural defensive tasks at the Rural Urban Interface (RUI) must be able to quickly deploy into standard defensive postures.   Standard drills allow common understanding and expectations between Strike Team (ST) Leaders and crews when tasks to protect particular structures are assigned under pressure situations – time cannot be wasted directing how each particular structure is to be defended.   This SOP describes the standard structural defensive drill to be employed by crews protecting property at the RUI.
  2. Planning Principles.       The planning principles of any structural defensive drill are as follow.



Appliance Positioning Appliance is to be reversed into the lee side of the structure – engine running, doors/windows/lockers closed, beacons on.  If access is difficult, park on the street not blocking traffic.
Ember Protection Zone Two 38mm lines each side of the structure, orientated toward the line of fire approach to protect the ‘circle of safety’ as embers fall on and around the home
Suppression of Approach Fuels Personnel must be positioned sufficiently forward of the structure to be able to deny the approach of the fire.   The positioning of personnel is totally reliant upon the available defendable space and local fire behaviour.
Protected Withdrawal Route For personnel and appliance
Mop-Up & Move On Prioritise mop-up actions after the fire front has passed before rapidly deploying to the next at risk structure


  1. Structural Defence Drill.  The structural defence drill is to result in the crew deployed as depicted.