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Scania fights bushfires to keep Australia safe

At the very start of 2013, while northern Europe was shivering under especially cold temperatures, Tasmania – an island State off the south-east Australian coast – was struck by savage bushfires that destroyed 20,000 hectares of forest, pasture and over 170 homes, schools and businesses.

A week later, parts of the states of Victoria and New South Wales hundreds of kilometres to the north were burning too – walls of flame racing across dry brown fields and iconic Aussie bush, fanned by strong winds from the country’s dry, red desert heart.

Whenever a fire is reported, a well-developed system clicks into action: hundreds of fire-fighters, most of them local volunteers, jump onto specially-equipped trucks and race to protect life, property and possessions. It’s not uncommon for 50 or more trucks, all with crews of up to 6 men or women, to be deployed. In addition water-bombing helicopters and aircraft can be called in too.

Some of the specially-modified trucks are based on Scania double-cab chassis; they’re equipped with big diesel pumps, a tank holding up to 3000 litres of water, racks of hoses, breathing equipment, chainsaws – and extensive sprayers to protect both truck and crew in the event of a “Burn Over” – the truck itself being engulfed in flames.

But it’s not just bush-fires that the trucks and crews attend – car-crashes, house fires, hazardous materials spills and search-and-rescue emergencies also see the trucks in action.

Yet, while the southern states burned in one of the hottest summers on record, the northern state of Queensland was hit by a tropical storm, which dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain across vast tracts of flat land in just a few hours.

Rivers surged, dams overflowed and towns on the wide, flat, sun-bleached plains were suddenly anything up to two metres under water. Bridges collapsed, roads were washed away and the houses and businesses that remained were filled with evil-smelling mud. Families were forced to flee or in some cases, were plucked to safety from the roofs of their homes.

Again, it was Emergency Services crews and their trucks that came to lend a hand – though this time the enemy was water, not fire – and Australia proved once more that it can be a land of sometimes deadly extremes.

Each State has a different structure for fighting fire or flood outside of urban areas, and in the main the Scania trucks are used by the Country Fire Authorities to defend populated areas, rather than open bushland, where lighter 4x4 trucks are used.