National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)
Australian / America Exchange
Australian American Exchange
During January and February of 2007, 114 firefighters were required to adopt a completely different situational awareness. Instead of Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine, spruce and alpine fir, they found themselves in Eucalyptus groves and Acacia forests. They were no longer concerned with bear encounters—instead, they looked forward to seeing Kangaroos, Wombats and Koalas. And, in the middle of the American winter, they were fighting heat, drought, and 2.4 million acre blazes.
it might seem like a daunting task, these men and women actually considered
themselves a lucky few, on the vanguard of a new firefighting experience.
They were the most recent—and the largest group of American—participants
in an exchange program between the
these traditional sources proved insufficient, however, fire managers
were forced to look beyond—far beyond—traditional sources. One such
source was Australian firefighters. There was a problem, however; while
Aussies had been visiting the
effectiveness of that first deployment, coupled with another destructive
fire season in 2002, forced another deployment of ANZ personnel Unlike
2000, this deployment was conducted under the auspices of a new agreement,
which had been passed into law a mere week before, after nearly two
years of drafting and revision. Under this new agreement, ANZ personnel
assisted Americans in 2003 and 2006, with over 100 firefighters making
the journey during the 2006 season. Though the program’s early years
were dominated by Australians visiting the
The 2006-2007 Deployment
after the end of the 2006
the Americans were mobilized, and by January 21st and 22nd,
2007, 114 American firefighters—two hotshot crews and 68 other resources—were
The Differences Between the Systems
According to Bodie Shaw, “There were a lot of commonalities, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t also a lot of differences,” a statement which seems to encapsulate the whole deployment nicely. The Australians operate under the Australian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS), which was modeled after the American Incident Command System (ICS). Australians involved in the first international deployment in 2000 thought that AIIMS was approximately “80-90% identical to the American ICS system.”  One of the major goals of the initial December deployment was to work out those differences, to “crosswalk [the AIIMS system] with ICS and determine what we needed to order,” said Mr. Shaw.
major difference is that the majority of wildfire suppression operations
the organizational differences, there were a number of smaller challenges,
like the “language barrier”. As Bodie Shaw stated, “Even though it
was another English speaking country, you’d be surprised at the differences.
We take for granted the common everyday vernacular we use in
Another major difference between the two systems was that Australian firefighters do not carry emergency fire shelters as part of their PPE. “Their philosophy is that you should never place yourself in that situation; you should never let fire behavior escalate to a place where you would be put in that situation.” Also, Australians use their vehicles as escape routes, which conflicted somewhat with the American preference to use roads as areas to withdraw to and deploy fire shelters. “They warned us pretty heavily against that over there, because they go back to their vehicles, and when things get bad, they come roaring back down the roads—so they really didn’t want us using roads as deployment zones,” Mr. Segar reported.
The Benefits of the Exchange
Mr. Shaw and Mr. Segar were very positive about the exchange program,
describing it as a “great experience” and a “good opportunity.” Mr.
Shaw described what he saw as the biggest benefit: “When the Aussies
came over in 2006, American incident commanders were cognizant of their
Australian abilities, but because they had never worked in the western
temperate forests of the
Mr. Segar explained another benefit: observing the adaptability of the Australian
fire management organization: “We’re in a situation where fire management
is changing very quickly, and we’re not able to keep up with that change.
You can go over [to
Beyond just the experience of fire suppression, the program allowed for American
firefighters to learn even more about their Australian hosts. “At each
of the R and R places there were Aussies there to teach us about the
country and the culture. So it was a really great learning experience
for everyone, besides the fire climate, to learn about
on successful 2006-2007 deployment, as well as the five other deployments
since 2000, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced at a reception
for Ambassadors of Canada,
the current program, which was for “dire emergencies,” this program
will allow both for suppression assistance and for exchanges of ideas
in all areas of fire. John Segar explained, “We can learn some things
during fire suppression, in the heat of the fight, but in a lot of respects
we can learn a lot more when we can go over there and can watch what
people are doing without focusing on fighting the fire.” For example,
“You look at what they do for community preparedness, and working with
communities, they’re so far in front of what we do in the
High expectations abound for the new exchange. Expressing his hopes for the new program, Mr. Shaw explained, “Suppression got us started, but there really is so much more to learn. I think that as this develops, this really becomes part of the globalization of resource management. This is one good way for us to start to broaden our depth and breadth of experience nationally and internationally. So that is my one hope, that as this program continues to build, we have familiarity, we have technical exchange and cultural exchange that really benefits us far beyond just the auspices of fire, really into the political arena that we find ourselves in with globalization.”
The AUS-US exchange, in its short history, has already had an effect on how people in both countries approach fire management. Through the formalized exchange that begins next year, it has the potential to profoundly affect the business of wildfire management and international cooperation. It has also genuinely affected the experiences and outlook of the firefighters who have been lucky enough to participate. “I would bet that anybody who went over would be more than happy to go back,” John Segar confided.
Sidebar 1: US-Australia Fire Translations
Should you find yourself fighting bushfires alongside your Aussie
compatriots, you won’t have to suffer through translating their
orders alone—the liaisons of 2006-2007 deployment have
produced this handy glossary. Study it.
 National Fire News
 “Sharing of Wildland Fire Suppression Resources” from Bodie Shaw
 Patrick, Andrew J. The Globalization of Wildfire.
 “Sharing of Wildland Fire Suppression Resources” from Bodie Shaw
 Key Issues Identified from Operational Reviews of Major Fires in Victoria 2006-2007. http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/CA256F310024B628/0/7A7734F35FFC2E3ACA25733A00200D8F/$File/Report+Ross+Smith+Op+Review+2006-07+fire+seasonv2.pdf
 NMAC briefing paper; Key Issues Identified from Operational Reviews of Major Fires in Victoria 2006-2007. http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/CA256F310024B628/0/7A7734F35FFC2E3ACA25733A00200D8F/$File/Report+Ross+Smith+Op+Review+2006-07+fire+seasonv2.pdf
 The Globalization of Wildfire