A local firefighter was deployed to the United States to help keep firefighters on the ground safe.
Fire and Rescue NSW Region West Duty Commander Inspector Adam Wixx has returned to Dubbo after being called upon to join 39,000 firefighters attending fires across the country.
He said despite never being deployed interstate or overseas he took the opportunity to help as a line safety officer for six weeks.
“I was placed in a division on three different fires … the Angel Springs fire, the Cougar Creek fire and the Maple fire in the state of Washington,” Inspector Wixx said.
“My role was to take a big picture view, a strategic type view of the environment, operations and tactics and try to ensure as best as possible they were done in a safe way.
“To make sure hazards such as falling trees or changes in weather conditions, fuel loads and other things were taken into account so we could do operations as safely as possible.”
Inspector Wixx said while he wasn’t specifically fighting fires he was on the ground with the people on the fire front.
“There were a few occasions where you definitely had to keep a lookout, keep aware of what was going on so if there were any changes or any dangers you could react appropriately,” he said.
He said he found the US firefighting crews to be very professional, “well-trained and good at what they do.”
“I never felt as though myself or the people I was looking after were in any immediate danger from the fire or operations,” he said.
He said the highlight of the experience was learning how the US crews operate.
“A lot of it is very similar … but their strategies and tactics are quite a bit different in some respects … it was a great challenge.
“From a personal side of things, the scenery over there, the fires I was fighting were in glorious country-side and rain forest areas and the wildlife was spectacular.”
Inspector Wixx said the experience was “pretty exhausting, pretty tiring”.
“I didn't think I’d sleep on the ground quite so well … but when you’re doing 16 hour days 14 days in a row, you sleep pretty well.
“I would certainly put my hand up to do it again. It was a great experience, I highly recommend it.”
He said while he had seen fires of the same magnitude and worse in Australia, he noticed the “sheer size of burnt area” they were some pretty big fires over there.
“For example, I worked on the Cougar Creek fire, which is still burning now, when we left they had it much more under control, it was about 42,000 acres of burnt area,” Inspector Wixx said.
“The fires I was deployed on, because of the vegetation type, they moved a lot slower than what we’re used to in Australia.”
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About 2500 firefighters worked on the Cougar Creek fire which was first ranked a “type one” fire (the worst of five fire stages) and was downgraded to a type two fire as Inspector Wixx was leaving.
He said the biggest challenge was negotiating different perceptions of risks, hazards and safety.
“The hardest part was trying to find that balance between disrupting their operations and what their strategies and objectives were but also trying to have an input and say well look there is a safer way we can go about this,” he said.
Inspector Wixx said it was a “privilege to represent Fire & Rescue NSW and of course the town of Dubbo”.
“It was good to be asked, it was a privilege and a great opportunity, I hope I did well in that respect.”