Canadian fireys give up their Christmas to help us
FLYING over bushfires in December is a surreal experience for firefighter Patrick McIlwaine ‒ back in his hometown in Canada, it's about minus 20 degrees.
Mr McIlwaine is part of a 21-strong crack squad of experienced Canadian firefighters who have forsaken a white Christmas with their families to help their Australian counterparts combat the bushfires currently devastating New South Wales.
With five of his Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre colleagues, the provincial aviation specialist has been assigned to the Rural Fire Service Incident Management Team at Casino.
The 38-year-old said the deployment was a returning the favour to fireys who travelled from Australia to Canada in 2017 to help combat their bushfires.
"Most of us have chosen to come over here as a way of paying back the Australian firefighters who have helped us out with our fires over the past few years," Mr McIlwaine said.
"My wife and I discussed this and decided that, as our daughter is one-year-old, this is the year for me to be away."
Mr McIlwaine said he and his colleagues were chosen for their specialist skill sets, and will be taking on various roles within the incident management team, including planning, aviation and operations.
"As an air attack supervisor, my priority is firefighter safety then fire suppression," he said.
"Every morning we have a briefing within the incident management team and go over the action overnight and decide on the priorities."
He then holds a briefing with the aircrews, pilots and people loading the water bombing aircraft with fire retardant, foam and gel.
"Then I go up with my team and, once we identify the targets, get the team into the air, managing both helicopters and fixed air water-bombers," Mr McIlwaine said.
"Communication with other aircraft and ground crews is a big part of the job and we also do a fair amount of intelligence gathering, especially on the fire parameters."
Mr McIlwaine said he had not seen anything like the current fire conditions in NSW.
"The prolonged drought has really stressed the environment," he said.
"We are drought in Canada but not to extent you are in over here."
The Canadian squad arrived on December 4 and is expected to return in early January.