Aussie team deployed to Quesnel

ANNIE GALLANT

Observer Reporter

Alison Martin had five days to put her life on hold, pack for an extended period of time out of the country, and get on the aircraft flying her and 52 other Australians to B.C. They were chosen based on skills, experience, availability and preparedness for overseas deployment.

The 53 individuals, which are part of various incident management teams, are also part of the larger Australian National Services’ Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council, from which the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre requested assistance with B.C.’s raging wildfires.

Martin is no stranger to quick deployment, having worked with the South Australia Fire Service for the past two and a half years, but she was thrilled to be chosen as part of this incident management team and to come to Canada. In her home state of South Australia, fire is no stranger. This is the driest state and although much of Australia is susceptible to wildfires, her state certainly sees its fair share.

“We have very large, fast moving fires,” she said.

“The largest I’ve worked on so far was 85,000 hectares.”

The 53 experts from Australia each have a specific job to do on the team, including Martin who is responsible for disseminating information.

“I liaise with businesses, homeowners, forestry service, media and other stakeholders,” she said.

“The rest of the team acquires the data and I then deliver it out.”

Other positions on the team include logistics, planning, fire behaviour analysis, operations, aviation and an incident commander who co-ordinates everything.

After arriving in Canada on July 19, the team spent two days receiving in-country briefings (which included differences and similarities between the two countries). They then drove up through the fire-ravaged Cariboo and arrived in Quesnel, a town they’d never heard of before.

“I’m deployed to fires in South Australia around towns I’ve never heard of either, so it’s nothing new, but being here is like a vacation – although I’m working, it’s still a beautiful community,” she said.

For several of the team members, its their first time in Canada.

Thanks to the geographical position of Australia, Canada’s summer is its winter season, so that allowed the deployment of the incident management team to Canada.

It’s the job of the incident management team to collect data and relay that to the B.C. Fire Service and others tasked with fighting the fires.

Some team members do aerial reconnaissance and evaluate various other aspects of fires, but they are not fire fighters.

Quesnel airport is also home to hundreds of fire fighters and the Quesnel Fire Centre. They are tasked with all fires east of the Nazko River.

Martin said they expect to be in Quesnel for two weeks (currently they are transitioning with the outgoing B.C.-based incident management team). They’ll then have two days rest, with the potential of another two-week deployment depending on the wildfire situation.