More VICSES units join EPA smoke monitoring team

Four more Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) Units in the Melbourne and Geelong areas will soon operate mobile air quality monitoring gear as part of Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s (EPA) Incident Air Monitoring network.

EPA’s Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, says the VICSES volunteers will provide high tech air quality monitoring at major fires and other incidents for the protection of the public.

“VICSES Units in Brimbank, Geelong, Greater Dandenong and Manningham will join 10 other units that have been responding to major incidents since 2017,” Dr Hinwood said.

The addition of the four new units is expected to reduce the response time to incidents in the Metropolitan area, getting online data to the community and emergency services that much sooner.

“The air monitors will record levels of what is known as PM2.5, the small particles found in smoke that can affect people’s health. The higher the reading, the more particles and the greater risk to health,” Dr Hinwood said.

The new units and their specially trained VICSES volunteers, are expected to be ready to respond to incidents by the start of the summer fire season, on 1 November.

As part of the ongoing program refresher training is also under way for the 10 VICSES units that already operate incident air quality monitoring gear, including; Bairnsdale, Ballarat, Benalla, Bendigo, Bright, Broadmeadows, Hamilton, Mildura, Stawell and Swan Hill.

The VICSES volunteers add locally available, mobile air quality monitoring capacity to EPA’s existing mobile units and its network of permanent sites in Melbourne, Geelong, Wangaratta and the Latrobe Valley.

VICSES Deputy Chief Officer Alistair Drayton says the program is a carefully planned addition to the state’s emergency response capacity.

“Like the original 10, the four new mobile units have been placed in locations selected by EPA and VICSES to enable response to smoke events to occur quickly,” DCO Drayton said.

“Our local Units will respond using this important equipment which will assist emergency agencies in making critical air quality decisions when managing an incident.”

The successful partnership between EPA and VICSES has already deployed volunteer units with mobile air quality monitoring gear during major incidents including the Coolaroo industrial fire in 2017, the south west Victorian peat fires in 2018, industrial fires at West Footscray and Campbellfield in 2018, and in response to smoky conditions across north eastern Victoria during planned and unplanned burning in 2018/2019.

Air quality information collected by the mobile units will be available to the community along with information about potential health impacts, through the EPA AirWatch site at epa.vic.gov.au, the Vic Emergency website emergency.vic.gov.au , social media and local media.

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