The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) Shoalhaven District has added another asset to its firefighting arsenal with the introduction of trail bike operations.
The team of six riders, will at this stage utilise four Suzuki DR 400 trail bikes for the 2019 fire season, with the plan to add more and expand the group's capabilities.
Inspector Chris Palmer said it was a significant step forward in the response to incidents in difficult to reach areas, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and aviation bombing ground support operations.
"This will increase the ability to effectively identify the location, size of a bush fire and resources required to manage a fire in a timely manner," Inspector Palmer said.
The Shoalhaven will have six trail bike operators with specialised training and up to four trail bikes in the north of the city who will carry with them firefighting equipment, communications and first aid kits.
The NSW RFS has seven trail bike units, which can range in size from four riders up to eight, located around the state which are currently filling a variety of tasks with the fire activity in the northern parts of the state.
Inspector Palmer said the new assets in the Shoalhaven could be deployed for a number of purposes, which would include reconnaissance, fire trail inspections, and assist other agencies in land search and rescue operations.
Shoalhaven District Officer Ross Smith, who himself is part of the unit, said the aim is to add more riders to the local team.
"At this stage we are located in the northern Shoalhaven but we are keen to expand the service through to the southern border of the city," he said.
"We have two riders from Tomerong, one from Kangaroo Valley and Bay and Basin and others from this area.
"We all come with trail bike or enduro riding experience.
"We participated in a special off-road training course at an enduro training centre at Mogo last weekend.
"It's been an ongoing mission to get the bikes online here in the Shoalhaven, something we first mentioned in 2013, and now we have this foundation team we want to build up the numbers of qualified riders.
"We will be looking for more riders to undergo training further south.
"I think if we have a highly visible team out and about it will also work as a deterrent for any possible arson events in the Shoalhaven - you never know where we might pop up."
The bikes also come with two purpose-built trailers which carry firefighting tools like blowers, chainsaws, rakes/hoe as well as a variety of bike spares and tools.
"The bikes are fitted with GPS, special carry racks to allow us to carry our equipment depending on the task at hand, and can even utilise thermal imaging cameras," he said.
"Simply the bikes can get into areas other vehicles can't - we can use them for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, trail identification and search and rescue.
"On the recent Catastrophic warning day in the area, they were used to ensure no one was in the Yalwal camping area.
"Riders also have earpiece communications so they are always in contact with fire control and can quickly pass on any information."
He said while the teams could work in a variety of roles, there will also be the possibility of supporting neighbouring areas like Illawarra, Lake George and Far South Coast.