The Incident Management Team – 2017 Deployment to Canada. From left; back row: Kylan McKeen, Dave Wills, Phil Grace, Wayne Beggs, Carrie Lakin, John Sutton, Rory Renwick, Bobby Lamont, Christine Tatterson, Kevin Ihaka, Trevor Bullock, Phil Hodson, Nick Williamson, Phil Muldoon, Patrick Eschenmoser, Phil MacDonald. Front row, from left: Hamish Angus, Jason Hill, Jamie Cowan, Dave Hunt.
Sunday marked the end of the first week for the deployment team in Canada. It’s been full on and fast with little room to catch one’s breath since both teams landed in their respectful areas. It’s definitely a learn-as-you-go job and yes, we’re stuffed, but each day that we head out our confidence builds.
The weather has been, how can I say this…weird. When we arrived into British Columbia the sun was melting us at 35°C, teams were rocking out the short shorts and jandals – it was great. But five days later, the temperature has decreased to a mild 18-20°C. I know, I know, it’s winter back home, you’re cold, you’d love hot weather, why am I complaining? Well, I’m not really, especially given the fact that we woke up to a -1°C morning the other day. How is that possible – in summer!?
Into our second week and a lot of us are settling into it with aplomb. It’s no ‘hi ho, hi ho,’ let me assure you; as with anyone who’s been on deployment, you can’t be settled too much, for as soon as you start to get comfortable, anything can and most surely will happen.
But hey…let’s talk about that next week ;)
Smoke on the water
There are no words for it – these fires are immense. The vastness of how wide they spread over so many hectares cannot be put down into words alone. To know it is to see it and you can’t go in thinking you know the game here in BC – doing so will put not only yourself, but your crew in danger.
Safety is our number one priority, as it should be. Go out safe; come back safe. You see and hear that phrase everywhere at camp and it starts as soon as you put your boots on. Regardless if you’re managing it from base or on the line, no one is a single entity out here. Just like some great rugby team from some amazing country…we back each other up.
As you may know, our crews are split over two fire camps: Clinton and Cache Creek. Both crews are working on the Elephant Hill Fire which is estimated to have 168,000 hectares of area burned. To put that into perspective – Lake Taupo is 61,600 hectares. They have 593 firefighters there including 290 out-of-province men and women including those from Mexico, Australia, and of course, us.
The teams are working hard down there, so much so that their Incident Commander has recognised their commitment, “your teams are brilliant and very hard workers. If I could have four more NZ 20 packs I would be in heaven!”
The team are travelling together, separate from the fire crews, and have worked with outgoing IMTs to learn the roles and responsibilities, usually in a day or two before management is handed over to them. A lot of it is based off of talent and keen-as-ness, but I’m sure some kiwi ingenuity is thrown in there as well. We go in with gusto and definitely do enough to earn ourselves a mallowpuff.
There’s a saying here in camp that if something isn’t working right or something gets lost and pops up two days later – ‘it’s fire camp’. No hot shower in one stall – fire camp. Landline cuts out halfway through a call – fire camp. Flying bugs in your tent cos you forgot to zip it up in the morn – not fire camp; that’s your own fault.
I know that at the Lake Puntzi Fire Camp where the IMT are staying, you can’t get cell reception and the Wi-Fi is sketchy at best. And there’s no hope of using it properly when the crews come back for the day as they all bunch up in the area where the Wi-Fi is strongest so they can check their messages…facebook…tinder…whatever. But hey, ‘it’s fire camp’.
Honestly, the facilities are great here and it’s makeshift heaven to be honest. There are long trailers that are built to fit in showers/toilets, warehouses, offices and kitchens. Everybody eats in a mess tent and if you want your laundry done, you just put your dirty stuff in a black bag, leave it on a shelf and 24 hours later it’s all cleaned. Just like being back at mum’s really.
At the Clinton fire camp there are 500 people – I can only imagine what the line to dinner must be like (or the loo for that matter). At Puntzi, there’s 233 people at the moment and is slowly getting bigger. The area for camping is massive with a mixture of different people pitching a tent; Australians, Mexicans, Americans and lots of Canadians from different provinces. And of course us Kiwis have subtly marked our own territory:
Our Liaison team!
We have our New Zealand Liaison team that is based in Winnipeg and Kamloops who are doing an amazing job to keep everything rolling along while our deployment happens. They’re never far from the pulse and always available to lend a hand when needs be.
Currently we have Scott Marchant; NZ’s IARR’s (Interagency Agency Resource Representative), who is the main point of contact through the Coordinating Fire Centre (CIFFC) based at Winnipeg back to NZ. Contracts and Manifests are his focus while continuing to develop our relationships with our International partners. Russell Barclay was first over here doing the IARR’s role but has since transitioned to Scott and now has returned home.
From left: Ismael Torres Delgado, Mexican Liaison; Serge Poulin, Incident Commander for CIFFC; John Bolger, Australia Liaison; Laura Yvonne Marcius de la Cruz, Mexican Liaison; Russell Barclay, New Zealand Liaison; Scott Marchant, New Zealand Liaison; Darrin MacKenzie, Australia Liaison; Kim Connors, Agency Administrator for CIFFC
Wipari Henwood (pictured left) is the AREP (Agency Representative/Field Liaison). Wipari covers a heap of kilometres as he moves between our various deployment sites, He is the main point of contact for all deployed crews (thus working closely with Nigel). Wipari is also interacting on a daily basis with the Incident Management Teams (ITM) and providing what’s best from a NZ perspective.
As you can see, it’s a team effort all around. While this ‘hidden team’ may not seem to be as exciting as some of the front line roles, they are equally vital in the overall deployment success.
Incident Controller (IC) Phil MacDonald putting kiwi ingenuity to the test.
“Being sent on an international deployment is the apex of my fire career because the duration of the event allows you to practice your craft”. And don’t let that Magnum P.I moustache fool you - Phil has had a brilliant career, first becoming involved in rural in 1982. He’s worked for Lands and Survey, National Parks and for 30 years he was at the Department of Conservation. He left the Department of Conservation six years ago to continue his commitment with rural fire and is now based at Devonport.
As IC he realises that the role is no easy one to step into. “The role is challenging at an operational level with the complexities of transitions, setting up a fire camp, managing a team of 19 as well as being involved in what is considered the worst fire season in Canadian history”. But Phil brings with him a great ability to analyse what the big picture is and is therefore able to take those reigns and steer them with confidence.
“If I’m successful in this role, it’s because the team was absolutely supportive to me. The IMT this year has been exceptional. They have the attitude, willingness and talent to do themselves and Fire and Emergency New Zealand proud.”
Two weeks down and a couple more to go. The temperature has dropped a bit but it’s still shorts and Hawaiian shirt weather which is great for the teams as they approach their rest days.
Coming up in the next deployment newsletter we’ll look at some of our teams and find out what they’re doing when not being amazing. We’ll also look at women in deployment, R&R (that’s rest and recreation folks) and maybe take a look some wildlife (Canadians included). And of course, a lot of photos to shake a stick at.
Till then, stay safe. Stay warm. Kia Kite.