Regional Fire Brigade powers through 10+ hour blackout with Redback

Published On: February 5th, 2024|8 min read|

The small town of Buxton, nestled about 100km northeast of Melbourne, has seen its fair share of disaster – from the Black Friday bushfires in 1939 to the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, and many smaller blazes along the way. Suffice it to say – the community relies on the Buxton Fire Brigade (along with the other County Fire Authority [CFA] brigades in the local area). Charged with the critical responsibility of swiftly addressing fires and emergencies, the brigade relies heavily on a myriad of essential equipment powered by electricity.

However, the challenge of ensuring uninterrupted services during a blackout had proven to be a significant concern for the brigade. That is, until a Redback Smart Hybrid was installed at the brigade’s station. Now, the brigade not only proudly maintains their rapid response time but has also successfully navigated through a daunting 10+ hour blackout, showcasing the remarkable reliability and efficiency of the Redback Smart Hybrid system.

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Making the switch

The Buxton brigade has been at the mercy of the electricity grid for some time, relying on a manual-start generator to keep things operational if the power goes out. A very important part of the Buxton brigade’s Station is its large single roller door which houses the community’s two critical fire-fighting appliances. When the power is on, the door is raised by an electric motor and the brigade can swiftly attend to emergencies.

However, without electricity, the door wouldn’t operate, and the essential fire-fighting appliances, including a fire engine, were unable to leave the station. In these events, firefighters had to reposition a portable generator outside the station and manually connect it to the alternative power circuit or, if the generator failed to start, manually lift the 200kg door to allow the fire engine to attend to an emergency. Both of these actions took significant time and unfortunately proved to be a critical delay in the brigade’s fire response time on a number of occasions.

“The brigade is measured on the time it takes to respond but, more importantly, there is a community expectation that we can do so in a reasonable manner. Not being able to get the door opened would be hard to accept during a life-safety event.” Captain Paul Denham, AFSM.

So, the station began to consider alternative options to ensure an uninterrupted power supply in the event of a blackout. From there, the concept of a Battery Energy Storage Solution (or BESS) was discussed.

“A BESS provided an opportunity to power the entire essential power requirements at the station rather than just focus on the roller door. This means the station will remain available for normal activities, such as meetings and training, despite a loss of external power. More importantly, things like the CFA radio in the engine room and the turnout computer will still be functional without having to fire up a generator and connect it to the switchboard.”

With all of these factors in mind, and with the support of the brigade members and surrounding community, the station had a Redback Smart Hybrid installed by local installers E-tec Pty Ltd, and only a few months later, their Redback’s backup capabilities were put to the test.

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No more generator woes

It was 2:38 am that the Buxton brigade’s Captain received a notification that a blackout had affected the Triangle area (the connection of the townships of Marysville, Narbethong and Buxton), and further north towards Taggerty. Power providers had estimated that the outage would be in effect for upwards of 12 hours.

A middle-of-the-night outage similar to this one would previously have members needing to crawl out of bed and head to the station, manually relocate and switch on the generator, and monitor its performance.

This time, however, the station’s Redback Smart Hybrid was already charged to 100%, and ready to tackle the blackout. The team were granted a restful night, using the Redback App to confirm that their Redback was successfully supplying backup power to the station’s essentials, including lights, internet, the engine bay, and most importantly, the roller door.

“In the past, our minds would be contemplating whether to attend the station and prepare the manual generator. Not this time – a simple app check and a restful night was had – no need to be stumbling in the dark getting the generator in place and worrying about what might happen.”

Redback’s backup capabilities put to the test during emergency

The station’s Redback system kept the station illuminated and running overnight and had everything ready for the team when they were called to an emergency the following morning. At this point, the Buxton area was still without power, and the station’s Redback battery system was still powering the station’s essentials.

At 10:55 am the Buxton brigade received an alert that there was a fire at Marysville – an approximate 11-minute drive from the station. With response time previously proving to be a hurdle for the brigade during a power outage, the team set out, determined to swiftly assist their colleagues at Marysville – and the first step was to get the roller door open.

The energy stored in the Redback battery was not only sufficient enough to power the station’s roller door, but it did so quickly and effectively. In the wake of the Marysville emergency, the brigade was able to successfully deploy their essential fire-fighting appliances out of the station, without needing to rely on a generator to open the roller door, or use time and manpower to manually raise it.

The brigade was able to attend to the emergency swiftly, maintain their response time, and keep their essentials running with their Redback battery – all during a blackout. What’s even better, is that despite utilising a fair amount of power to raise the door, the Redback system still had plenty of juice left to keep the station operational for the remainder of the blackout.

“Although we opened and closed the engine bay door twice during the call to Marysville, the battery still had over 50% capacity when power was restored to the station just after midday,” said Captain Denham.

“Even with a forecast return of service as late as 2:30 pm, the battery system was predicted to last well past that time.”

The power of Redback: Captain’s perspective

The Buxton brigade’s Captain says that while the door’s operation is a significant factor that prompted the installation of their Redback Smart Hybrid, there’s so much more that attracted the station to switch from a generator to a battery.

“The Buxton area is vulnerable to outages and we wanted to still be able to operate the station during an outage; while that can be done with a generator, being able to do it without even realising the power is out is very beneficial. If the power is out we can still conduct training, hold meetings, or undertake routine activities like vehicle maintenance. With the implementation of the BESS, this can be achieved without any thought to having to start a generator and get computer systems up and running.

The other aspect of a lack of power is the impact on things like the station siren (which only operates during daylight hours but is relied upon by nearby members), the electronic turnout system that displays a screen with the incident location and a list of members responding to the station, or the internet that enables that information to be received at the station. So, it isn’t just about getting the door up.

At the end of the day, being able to operate the station over an extended outage was a critical requirement for the brigade; especially for those who had lived through the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires. As a fully volunteer CFA brigade, members respond to all kinds of emergencies all year round, not just during summer. We are proud to be able to say that the BESS was entirely funded by community donations, dating back to the 2009 Black Saturday fires.”

Overall, Captain Denham has positive feedback about Redback and the station’s experience during the blackout.

“That night, our new station backup power system was put to the test for the first time. It passed with flying colours, and did so fully automatically as designed. More importantly, when we received a call to support Marysville Fire Brigade, we were able to respond without any delay or issues.”

“I am very impressed with the MyRedback app which made remote monitoring easy. The biggest benefit is the ability to know the station is functional without having to be at the station. We were also able to use the web-based portal to monitor the battery and display its status in the engine bay.”

Up close image of Redback Battery installed against a tin wall

Prioritising safety for the community and members alike has always been a priority for the Buxton Fire Brigade, and with the assistance of their new Redback Smart Hybrid, the brigade was able to navigate a blackout and respond to an emergency, all while addressing the previous concerns around the bay door.

A quick look at the Buxton brigade’s website shows the slogan “Protecting Buxton”. Being able to remain functional and operational amid a lengthy blackout, while appropriately responding to a nearby emergency without delay, is a testament to the station’s dedication to upholding these values of protection. Redback Technologies is proud to supply the Buxton brigade with backup power when it’s needed most.