NINETY NINE per cent of the time Kingaroy Fire Station gets called to Swickers Bacon Factory, it's a false alarm.

But on November 6, it was a different story.

The auxiliary fire fighters at the station all attended the fire in what is the second biggest urban fire Kingaroy has ever experienced.

A crew of four from Kingaroy was the first on scene on the morning of the fire.

That quickly increased to 17 appliances and 35 firefighters attending throughout the day.

The Kingaroy crews were helped by crews from all over the South Burnett, as well as Maryborough, Maroochydore and a scientific crew from Brisbane to deal with the smoke.

Station officer Bruce Groer was the first on scene and had to account for everyone and ensure that none of his crew were going to be injured while attending the fire.

"We tried to make entry into the building with breathing apparatuses, but it was quite involved," he said.

"We had to change from an aggressive, offensive strategy when we couldn't access the building, we had to change to a defensive strategy.

"Due to firefighter safety."

The guys that attended that fire have been to the second most significant fire in Kingaroy's history

Mr Groer said the main concern was the fire spreading to the kill floor through the tunnel that connects the boning room to the kill floor, as well as the ammonia plant.

"If it (the ammonia plant) had failed or ruptured it would have been catastrophic for us and the area," Mr Groer said.

Part of the tunnel ended up being torn down to stop the physical spread of the fire to the kill floor.

Mr Groer said what helped the fire crews that day was the crisis management plans Swickers had in place.

Ergon Energy cut off power to the factory early on in the day.

Kingaroy Area Commander Mark Long said the station was assisted by previous training exercises.

Two of the station's firefighters also worked at the factory.

"Having the procedures, knowing the layout of the building, that local knowledge made it a lot easier," Mr Long said.

Alex Johnson and Ryan Hall were two of the first on scene at the Swickers Fire and worked together in a breathing apparatus team.
Alex Johnson and Ryan Hall were two of the first on scene at the Swickers Fire and worked together in a breathing apparatus team. Katherine Morris

Michael Armstrong is a workshop supervisor at Swickers and was on his way to Gympie when he got the call about the fire, forcing him to turn around to help out.

Ryan Hall works at Swickers and was part of the first crew that tried to enter the building in a breathing apparatus.

"We did try and get to where staff had said the fire had started but it was too dangerous for myself and Alex," Mr Hall said.

"Because I work in that area, I said to Bruce that we could try another entrance.

"As we entered we were hearing explosions, or what we thought were explosions. We decided it was too dangerous."

Mr Groer said three vessels worked to keep a constant hose on the ammonia plant to keep it cool, while crews worked on the fire.

"As we got more resources we set up other hose lines in other parts of of the building," he said.

If it (the ammonia plant) had failed or ruptured it would have been catastrophic for us and the area

Mr Long said the contingency plans in place made it easier for crews to focus on the fire.

"Ergon removed the power at an early stage, the shut down of ammonia happened at an early stage," he said.

"It made it easier for our boys not to have worry about those other risks of people being inside, electricity or ammonia."

As Mr Hall fought the fire that was engulfing his place of work he said he focussed on the fire more than worrying about his job.

"I knew that Swickers management always has contingency plans and I've still got a job," Mr Hall said.

Mr Groer said a control process for the breathing apparatus teams ensured there were no injuries.

"We had 38 breathing apparatus teams through on Sunday," Mr Groer said.

"And that's teams of two so 76 individual wearers and some people wore them multiple times."

"There was no real other option for that day.

Ambulance officers monitored vitals and told officers whether or not someone needed a rest, or was no longer fit for fire fighting duty.

"We only had two of those and we found them other jobs," Mr Groer said.

Mr Groer said at the height of the fire there was another job in Kingaroy that was nipped in the bud before it escalated.

The Swickers fire was under control by noon on Sunday but one crew remained overnight.

A major hassle for the firefighters was a cardboard store room, as other areas of the building were mostly metal, meaning there wasn't a lot to burn.

"The afternoon was getting the hotspots. By the afternoon there wasn't much at all," Mr Groer said.

"As the ceiling had collapsed it was awkward to get in and deal with those spot fires, it had to be done from the exterior."

Kingaroy Fire Station's auxiliary firefighters who attended the Swickers fire on Sunday, November 6.
Kingaroy Fire Station's auxiliary firefighters who attended the Swickers fire on Sunday, November 6. Katherine Morris

Mr Long said the support from the on-site management, QPS, QAS and QFES as well as the local disaster management group made the response flow more easily than it normally would for a fire of such magnitude.

"Everyone did a great job on the day, the guys worked extremely hard. The good thing was we didn't allow it to spread outside that structure and no one go hurt," Mr Groer said.

"We were always problem solving, we couldn't work out why we were running out of water.

"It turned out the fire had burnt through the copper pipes and we had to shut them off.

"The facility had a main around it with pillar hydrants.

"So they had strategies in place to make it easier and it all worked well."

Mr Groer said the job was the biggest he had ever attended.

"Couldn't exactly say but I believe it's the second biggest structural fire in Kingaroy's history," he said.

"The guys that attended that fire have been to the second most significant fire in Kingaroy's history."

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokeswoman said a fire investigator was inspecting electrical items that may have caused the fire.

South Burnett

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