The black Saturday bushfires struck Victoria on 7th February 2009, claiming the lives of 173 people, injuring many others, and destroying countless homes and properties. When considering the mortuary response to the bushfires, it should be placed in the context of the late January heatwave, when 3–4 days of 40 degree temperatures resulted in some 150 additional deaths amongst susceptible groups. It was during the course of managing these extra deaths, that the bushfires struck.
Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) staff and volunteers from interstate and international forensic centres were involved in multiple aspects of the operation:
* responding to deaths from the heatwave;
* at the bushfire scenes;
* in the performance of post‐mortem and specialist examinations;
* in the scientific laboratories;
* in the collection and reconciliation of ante‐mortem data;
* in presentations to the Identification Board.
The task was difficult, complex and stressful, although careful planning enabled the response to be calm and coordinated for much of the active post‐mortem phase. Staff across the Institute took up additional roles to fill gaps and to support the internal leadership of those in the thick of the operation. This discussion will be centered around the management of the mortuary during this disaster response.