Update on US firefighters in Australia

The firefighters from the United States that we told you about on January 11 that are assisting the Australians arrived down under on January 15. Their first assignment was to participate in two days of orientation training. The deployment follows an initial visit in December by an international team which spent two weeks developing an action plan. Firefighters from Canada are also assisting the Australians.

Allen Johnson and Shane del Grosso in Australia. Photo: Andrew Kelly
Allen Johnson and Shane del Grosso in Australia. Photo: Andrew Kelly

An Australian newspaper, The Courier, has an article about the deployment, and interestingly, to me anyway, it has a photo of two of the U.S. firefighters, both of whom I know.

Allen Johnson and I “grew up” on the Cleveland National Forest in southern California, but now he is a district Fire Management Officer on the Stanislaus National Forest in central California. Shane del Grosso works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is the Zone Fire Management Officer for refuges in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Two American forest fire experts are in Ballarat for a month to share their knowledge and boost local firefighting resources.

Shane Del Grosso and Allen Johnson are part of team of 15 forest firefighters from the United States and Canada who arrived in Australia last week and have been deployed across Victoria. The two men have more than 50 years of firefighting experience between them.

Mr Johnson, a District Fire Management Officer from California, said the American and Australian approach to firefighting was similar.

“The fuel type is different, but fire behaviour is basically the same,” he said.

Both Mr Johnson and Mr Del Grosso, a fire behaviour analyst from South Dakota, are regularly deployed to disaster zones across the US in the event of floods, hurricanes and fires.

Mr De Grosso said historically firefighting had come down to neighbours helping neighbours.

“Now its countries helping countries,” he said.

“We can learn from each other and make it very beneficial for both.”

The pair will work on special projects during their time in Ballarat and help out if there’s a bushfire.

Premier John Brumby last week said the group of international firefighters were an important addition to Victoria’s largest ever firefighting effort.

“The Canadians and American experts bring with them a vast knowledge of firefighting and will continue what is an ongoing information exchange on specialist firefighting with our local forces this season,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on her way to attend a conference in Australia and planned to visit with the U.S. firefighters while she was in the country, but she returned to the U.S. after the Haiti earthquake since the United States Agency for International Development, under her jurisdiction in the State Department, has the lead role in managing the U.S. assistance to Haiti following the earthquake.

In February of 2009, 60 U.S. firefighters traveled to Australia to assist with fires; we had an article with photos of some of those firefighters HERE and HERE. And the assistance goes both ways, with about 44 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand coming to the U.S. in July of 2009.

Thanks Dick and Roberta

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.