By Luke Voogt
Victorian aerial firefighters now have a better chance of getting large bushfires under control at night, thanks to Bell Post Hill’s Simon Scharf.
“Up until 2018, we would only ever do firebombing during the day,” said the grandfather and firefighter of 37 years, who received an Australian Fire Service Medal this week.
“Flying at night is inherently more dangerous.”
But in 2018 Mr Scharf helped pioneer a system using night vision goggles, dependent on smoke and weather conditions.
In January 2019 he directed two helicopters in dropping about 200,000 litres of foam on a fire at Little Mount Buller from the cockpit of another.
They brought the fire under control and helped identify spot fires missed during the day.
Mr Scharf also received the medal for educating more than 1000 firefighters following the Linton Bushfire in 1998, which killed five Geelong West firefighters.
“A wind change hit that we didn’t know about and caused an entrapment of two trucks,” he said.
“I lost five of my crew. That was obviously very devastating.”
Mr Scharf never shied away from being “accountable” as a strike team leader following the tragedy, whether in the mammoth 106-day coronial inquest or the decades after.
The coroner’s recommendations led to large scale changes in how the CFA operates, and now Mr Scharf is part of the Linton Staff Ride, training firefighters in order to prevent similar tragedies occurring again.
“They are imagining themselves in my shoes that night,” he said.