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Emergency Services Ready as Heatwave Hits Victoria

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27 Jan 2009
The State’s peak emergency services agencies stand ready to support Victorians through the state’s longest and hottest heatwave in more than a century, Premier John Brumby said today at a special briefing at the Integrated Emergency Coordination Centre.

Mr Brumby was briefed on contingency and emergency arrangements in place by firefighting bodies (CFA, MFB and DSE), Ambulance Victoria, the Emergency Services Commissioner, the Chief Health Officer and the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO).

He said the weather outlook was dry and hot, with four consecutive days of 40-plus degree heat set to make this the second driest January on record.

“This week’s heatwave is longer and hotter than nearly all Victorians have experienced in a lifetime,” he said.

“We are facing at least four days in excess of 40 degrees, and it is crucial that Victorians have as much information as possible to avoid any ill-effects of the heat and to know where they can turn for help if they need it.

“I’d also urge carers and the community in general to be vigilant for their neighbours, family and friends and especially check on older, sick and frail people who may need help coping with the heat.

“People most at risk are people over 65 years, particularly those living alone without air conditioning, infants, pregnant women and nursing mothers, people who are unwell, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure and people on medications for mental illness.”

Mr Brumby said there were a range of key steps Victorians could take to minimise the risk in the extreme heat:

  • Limit outdoor activity and if outdoors, slip, slop, slap by using sunscreen and wearing a hat;
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids (non-alcoholic) (Note: If your doctor normally limits your fluids or you are on fluid tablets, you may need to check how much to drink while the weather is hot);
  • Take a cool shower or bath;
  • Look out for warning signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion such as a rapid heart rate, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, vomiting and fainting; and,
  • Never leave anyone in a closed parked car. On a 29 degree day, the inside of a car can more than double from 20 degrees to 44 degrees within 10 minutes and after another 10 minutes the mercury hits a deadly 60.2 degrees.

There are also some simple but important steps people can take to make sure their pets can survive the extreme heat.

  • Ensure animals have access to cool and shady areas during all parts of the day;
  • Supply plenty of cool fresh water;
  • Never leave animals in a car, even with the windows down. Pets can get heat stroke, brain damage or die in as little as 4-6 minutes in a hot car; and
  • Closely monitor sick, old, young or nursing animals.

Mr Brumby said the heatwave also posed a serious fire risk for the state.

“I urge everyone in bushfire areas to have a fire plan for your family and pets and know in advance if you intend to stay and defend your property or leave the area before the fire threatens,” he said.

“If you decide to leave – make sure you do so before road travel becomes dangerous.”

Important steps to take to avoid the threat of fires include:

  • Ensure vegetation and tree branches around the house are pruned;
  • Clean gutters regularly to ensure they are free of leaves;
  • Make sure gas bottles are not stored under a veranda;
  • Prepare a safety kit that includes medicine, spare clothing, study shoes, torch, new batteries, hat and sunscreen, water bottle, animal carrier and leads; and
  • Keep important documents like birth certificates, passports and wedding photos together in an easy to access location.

“We have 60,000 hard-working and dedicated Victorians who volunteer to protect lives and property in communities large and small, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year and we are indebted to our local volunteers who not only protect our community, but assist in other areas when needed throughout the fire season,” Mr Brumby said.

“I have been briefed today by the heads of the emergency service agencies that they stand ready to provide the assistance and support Victorians may need over this difficult period.”

Mr Brumby said as people look for ways to stay cool it was important to play it safe by the water and be wise with energy consumption.

“Victoria has 22,000 lifesavers across 57 lifesaving clubs protecting more than 10 million beachgoers each year and no Victorian has ever drowned while swimming between the flags,” he said.

The Victorian Government’s successful Play it Safe by the Water campaign has been running for the past 10 years and urges people to:

  • Never swim alone;
  • Always swim between the flags;
  • Look before you leap; and
  • Make sure someone is looking out for you

“As we head into our worst heat wave since 1908, demand for energy is expected to reach record levels, however the most recent figures provided by VENCorp suggest there will be adequate electricity supply to meet demand, and we will continue to monitor the situation,” Mr Brumby said.

Tips on managing electricity use include:

  • Shading windows;
  • Setting air-conditioners to slightly higher temperatures; and
  • Using lower energy cooling such as fans which will reduce energy consumption and help both the environment and the hip pocket.

Mr Brumby said people facing emergency medical situations as a result of the heat, or those dealing with fire should ring 000, while others needing less urgent medical assistance can also call the Nurse on Call service on 1300 60 60 24. Anyone with power supply issues should call their local provider.

People can also listen to ABC radio for emergency updates, call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667 or log on to www.fireready.vic.gov.au for further information.

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