Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) staff and volunteers will be further protected with additional respiratory equipment to be rolled out to frontline personnel at bushfires. 

QFES Commissioner Katarina Carroll said following a comprehensive feasibility study and trial, negative pressure masks (P3 masks) would be deployed to frontline personnel to add an additional layer of protection where an enhanced level of respiratory protection may be needed.

“The situation our firefighters faced just weeks ago were unprecedented, and also unimaginable,” Ms Carroll said.

“The nature of bushfires in our state has changed and what we had planned for is different to what unfolded recently.

“Our Fire and Rescue firefighters already use a range of breathing apparatus and other respiratory equipment. Our Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighters currently use P2 facemasks in combination with goggles. P2 facemasks filter approximately 93% of the particulates that are in the atmosphere during a fire and meet the requirements of the Australian Standards for P2 facemasks. This is the national standard used in all other Australian jurisdictions. P3 masks filter 99.95% of particulates.

“Our post-trial research and evaluation of P3 masks this year, combined with what we have just seen unfold across Queensland and the erratic nature of those bushfires, supports the move by QFES to roll out P3 masks to other frontline personnel attending bushfire incidents, including volunteer firefighters and SES volunteers providing support.

“The safety of our staff and volunteers is paramount. Prolonged and extreme bushfire activity of the magnitude we have just seen can put our people at risk due to air quality being diminished for extensive periods. This is our new reality in Queensland and this is what we will now plan for and respond to.” 

Ms Carroll said QFES would adopt a risk-based approach to rolling out the P3 masks.

“We know that not every frontline officer working at a bushfire will need them,” Ms Carroll said.

“The P2 mask will continue to be provided as a vital piece of frontline respiratory protection for bushfire and mitigation burning operations. The P3 mask adds an additional layer of protection and that’s why we are approaching this with risk in mind and making sure those who most need them, will get them.”

Ms Carroll said thousands of personnel were expected to be issued with the P3 masks.

“Some of these masks will need to be custom-fit and unique to individuals, so we need to ensure that training, safety and maintenance matters are addressed before we work through the deployment of thousands of masks,” Ms Carroll said.

“A phased roll-out of the masks will start in 2019. It may be a mammoth task, but QFES will move quickly on this, because our people are our priority.”