News Release Date: September 14, 2015
Contact: Tina Boehle, (208) 387-5875
The 2015 fire season in the Lower 48 started off slowly, but within a two-week period from the end of July to mid-August, the national preparedness level went from PL-2 to PL-5. With hundreds of lightning fires igniting across the western United States, forests, parks, refuges, and state lands needed firefighters and resources for response. At the high point, August 24, 2015, there were over 30,000 firefighters dedicated to fire suppression and fire management efforts on western wildfires.
In response to the need for mid-level managers such as division supervisors, task force leaders, helicopter managers, heavy equipment bosses, and safety officers, the National Interagency Fire Center reached out to Australia and New Zealand for assistance. The benefits of working with the two countries include an incident command system similar to that of the United States, similar use of terminology, and fire seasons opposite those of the western United States. The last time the United States requested assistance from Australia and New Zealand was 2008.
The Australian liaisons arrived at the National Interagency Fire Center on August 20 and set up their office in the National Park Service suite in the headquarters building. Several days later, 70 fire managers and specialists arrived and began the process of getting outfitted with equipment and supplies, as well as oriented to the wildland fire situation, weather, and fire behavior typical of the northwestern United States.
National Park Service employees were involved in orienting the Australians and New Zealanders to their assignments. Fire communication and education staff assisted during the press event held to welcome the contingent and outfit the group with supplies. Jim Shultz, National Wildland Fire Training Program Manager and Matt Dutton of the Bandelier Wildland Fire Module led training on when to use and how to deploy fire shelters, which are used in the United States, but not in Australia or New Zealand. It was a new experience for members of the group who had not previously fought fire in the United States. Meg Gallagher, National Aviation Specialist and Robert Dauphinais, helicopter program manager at Grand Canyon National Park, on detail at the time to U.S. Forest Service Region 6, continued the training for the helicopter managers in Redmond, OR, instructing New Zealanders and Australians in helicopter management.
Once orientation and training were complete, the Australian and New Zealand fire managers and specialists headed to their assignments on fires throughout the Northwest and Northern Rockies geographic areas. Regional liaisons were sent to geographic area coordination centers, while two Australian liaisons and one New Zealand liaison remained at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
View a video of Matt Dutton conducting fire shelter training for the Australians and New Zealanders.