Bush fire at Captain Creek central Queensland Australia.

Building business through drought:
Are you fire ready?

While the drought rages on in many parts of Australia, OPE dealers are taking a hard hit to their revenue. With the upcoming fire season predicted to be hotter and drier than usual, dealers can aim to boost their sales by being fire ready.

It’s no secret that many Australians on the land are currently doing it tough. The six o’clock news abounds with images of desolate landscapes, untouched by lifegiving water for what, for our farmers, feels like an eternity. And while the barrage of donations, crowdfunding movements, and charities stepping in to help goes a ways to providing relief, it is also a reminder that, sadly, the drought is not over yet.

The ripple effects of drought spread wide and deep, especially through the rural communities that farmers cease shopping in if their crops and stock aren’t bringing in cash. And of course, not least, are the power equipment dealers whose livelihoods depend on growing grass and flourishing trees.

And sadly it seems that real relief may be quite some time away, with the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) Spring Outlook indicating that conditions over the next three months will be hotter and drier than average right across the country; conditions that make bushfires not just possible, but likely.

“Like all Australians, all of us at the Bureau of Meteorology are hoping those affected by the drought will get the rain they need soon,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s Manager of Long Range Forecasting, Dr Andrew Watkins said recently in a media release.

“Unfortunately, our outlooks show odds favouring a drier and warmer than average spring for many areas.”

BOM’s Outlook predicts that rainfall is likely to be below average, with southern New South Wales, Victoria, and south west WA likely to be the worst affected. Additionally, there is a 50 per cent chance of an El Niño event occurring.

“Traditionally El Niño events result in warmer and drier than average conditions across eastern Australia,” Dr Watkins explained.

“However, it is important to remember that the strength of an El Niño event doesn’t always translate into the conditions we see.”

“For example, in the past we’ve had strong El Niño events accompanied by mild conditions, and weaker El Niño events accompanied by severe conditions.”

“A number of international models are also predicting that a positive Indian Ocean Dipole event could potentially develop during spring, which would further exacerbate the drying trend,” he said.

This Outlook, combined with current conditions around the state of Victoria, has prompted the Country Fire Association (CFA) to commence fire restrictions in Victoria earlier than usual.

In a multimedia message posted on the CFA website in mid-August, CFA’s Chief Officer Steve Warrington, warned Victorians that fire preparation this year needs to happen now.

“We’re talking about bringing restrictions in as early as September – really, really early. So now is the time to make sure we’re starting to think that everybody comes home this summer,” he said.

“As early as September, landscape conditions may become susceptible to sources of ignitions, with the broader Gippsland region at risk of campaign fires.”

“I encourage you to consider that pre-season preparedness activity will commence earlier than usual and the planned burn season is likely to commence earlier than usual, with heightened risks in drier conditions,” Mr Warrington said. (Source: cfa.vic.gov.au.)

The ACT Emergency Services Agency has also commenced its fire season as of September 1st– one month earlier than usual.

But far from being powerless against these conditions, there is hope for OPE dealers, and the communities they serve, during this time.

Australian Pump Industries’ Product Manager – QP Fire Pump Division, Brad Farrugia, says that OPE dealers need to be proactive if they are to survive the drought and the fire season.

“We’re talking to power equipment dealers, irrigation shops, rural trading stores and similar outlets all around the country every day,” he recently told Power Equipment Australasia.

“What we’re finding is a growing awareness that this is going to be a dismal year for mower and turf-care sales. People who have already bought into pre-order discount programs for the year are now wondering how they can get out from under [that rock].”

“There’s no point having 20 ride-on mowers in stock if there’s no grass to cut. On the contrary, what we’re finding is a much earlier interest in gearing up for fire fighting pumps and equipment, months before the season normally starts.”

Mr Farrugia says that getting out of a contract to buy turf care equipment is a commercial issue that individual dealers will have to negotiate; but says that it isn’t impossible.

“The big companies, Briggs & Stratton for example, Honda, and the other majors of the industry, are exceptionally reasonable. We are customers of theirs and we find their support terrific. They are realistic and know how to roll with the punches. I’ve never heard of a dealer being shut down because they couldn’t pay and was forced to take delivery of large quantities of equipment that the dealer obviously wasn’t going to be able to sell because of seasonal conditions,” Mr Farrugia explained.

“We suggest dealers think seriously about their financial position in terms of commitments, and move into getting early orders in fast for pumps – ours or our competitors’ – so that there is equipment available when people need it,” he said.

According to Mr Farrugia, Aussie Pumps has launched a nation-wide education program, which includes a booklet titled Aussie Fire Ready Bushfire Survival Guide. It is currently being distributed to OPE dealers around the country, and is available free of charge to consumers.

Fire Chief Fire Fighter Pump by Aussie Pumps

The guide contains up-to-date information and advice on how home owners and farmers can prepare for bushfires. Aussie’s program also includes posters to be displayed in dealerships, and a boost in pump production to ensure stock is available when needed.

“We’ve boosted production dramatically,” Mr Farrugia said. “We know that diesel engines are much safer in a fire environment than petrol-drive fire pumps, so we’ve increased diesel production dramatically. We’ve ordered huge numbers of Kubota diesel engines and are embarked on a combined Aussie Fire Chief Kubota engine drive program that will be ideal for farmers,” he explained.

“For homeowners, we’ve come out with a point-of-entry, top quality fire pump we call the ‘QP2’ Aussie Fireman. It’s a terrific little product using a Honda GP160 5.5hp engine. It’s a great product.”

“For the real battles with fire, we’ve doubled the quantities of Honda-powered Aussie Fire Chief pumps for this season.”

Having the right equipment to fight a fire is one thing; but in the midst of a drought, the one missing ingredient for fighting fires, obviously, is water. But Mr Farrugia has advice on that as well.

“In that area we encourage people to work with companies like Trans Tank International or Rapid Spray dealers to get good quality poly tanks available so there is available water. Of course, if it’s a home defence situation, often a swimming pool or large rainwater tank will provide adequate supplies,” he said.

For those in bushfire-prone areas, both dealers and end users, Mr Farrugia has one last word of advice.

“Learn about pumps! Dealers owe it to their customers to stock a product that works. Third-world cheapies are a trap for customers. People can be misled into buying a cheap product that will never deliver the warranty or perform as they’re needed. Our advice for dealers and customers is: do your homework. Your customers’ lives and property could depend on it.”