U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
 
Elko Field Office
Print Page

DATE: March 5, 2007
CONTACT: Mike Brown (775) 753-0386
e-mail: Mike_Brown@nv.blm.gov
ELKO FIELD OFFICE: 2007-39

ELKO FIRE FIGHTERS ‘DOWN UNDER’ … FIGHTING FIRE IN AUSTRALIA

It was the dead of winter in Nevada and on the other side of the world in Australia it was the peak of a record summer fire season … when 108 fire fighters from the United States including two from Elko, Nevada were sent to lend a hand in January and February 2007.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Elko Field Office Assistant Fire Management Officer Jeff Arnberger and Fire Aviation Manager Cameron Dingman joined three other Nevada BLM fire specialists to fly around the world to Australia for a month’s work. The American contingent included two hotshot crews, 11 aviation specialists, and miscellaneous overhead fire management specialists.

Over one million hectares (approximately 2.5 million acres) in the State of Victoria (about the size of California) burned. By the time the U.S. fire fighters arrived, the worst of the fire season had passed and the Americans helped with mop up, rehabilitation, and relieved Australian fire specialists who had not had a break in months.

“It was definitely the experience of a lifetime,” said Jeff Arnberger. “When we got there we spent two days in orientation training learning how the Australians fight fire. Although English is the national language, we still needed a translator!”

“Fire fighting basics in Australia are the same as they are here,” Arnberger continued. “They do anchor, flank, and pinch to get the wildland fires out. Their implementation, however, is very streamlined compared to how we do business – it’s more bottom up than top down driven. They use very little water, very few fire engines, and have one basic hand tool – the McCloud. They do a lot of burnouts in front of the fires and use bulldozers extensively. Overall,
they learned from us and we learned from them.”

Aviation Manager Cameron Dingman commented, “Their aviation system is very different from ours. They don’t have aircraft managers and don’t use any heavy air tankers. They use small tankers similar to our Single Engine Air Tankers. The whole aviation dispatch system is very centralized.”

“In general, they don’t use fire shelters and their idea of mitigation for safety is to leave the fire,” Arnberger added. “Although there is a lot of emphasis on safety, health, and welfare of the fire fighters – the individual responsibility is rests with each fire fighter. A similar situation exists for home owners. Home owners are responsible for protecting their own property. They’re told ‘Make a decision – leave early or stay and defend.’ The whole population there is very fire savy … even the front pages of the local phone books contains information about what to do in the event of a wildfire.”

“Overall, it was a tremendous assignment,” concluded Dingman. “The people were all very friendly, appreciative, and thanked us profusely for helping. We would both go back in a heartbeat!”

The State of Victoria is reimbursing the U.S. government for all the fire fighter travel and expenses. Australian fire fighters have come to the United States several times the past ten years under the two governments’ reciprocal aid agreement.

-blm-


 
Last updated: 04-07-2008