Australia requests U.S. Incident Management Teams to assist with bushfires

They will depart around January 16

Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team
File photo. Example of an Incident Management Team, in this case, the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team. Photo from the Team’s website.

Australia has ramped up their requests for firefighting help from the United States. So far during their 2019-2020 southern hemisphere bushfire season Australia has only requested individuals to serve in specific management or specialist positions on bushfires, except for one 20-person crew that left for Australia a few days ago.

But now according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Australia has asked for “several Type 1 Incident Management Teams” (IMTs).

The logistics and determination of which IMTs will go is being worked out now, with an estimated departure date around January 16, 2020. The basic configuration for Type 1 IMTs is 58 members including 14 trainees, while a “short” Type 1 team has 26 including 6 trainees. We have learned that early indications are that instead of multiple 58-person teams going to Australia, three 10-person teams will respond, but this could change before they are actually mobilized. Maybe they will come up with a new term for 10-person teams.

IMTs are organized in advance to staff the overhead or management structure needed for running a planned or unplanned incident. The organization is based on the Incident Command System, with every position on the team having a title and a position description. Specific training is required for each job.

A Type 1 IMT is the highest level team, comprised of individuals with advanced degrees, so to speak, within their particular area of expertise. In the United States rosters are set in the winter or spring for the following summer fire season. There is always some churn between seasons, but many serve for multiple years. The team concept helps to build relationships, trust, and efficiency — the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone understands their role and they know what to expect from their co-workers.

IMTs that are primarily used on fires are rarely needed between January and April, however that can vary depending on the geographic location. Since this is the time of the year when IMTs might be undergoing change, with some ending their appointment to the team and their replacements not yet having been selected, it could be a challenge reconstructing them. Other complicating factors could also play a role, such as the requirement for passports and being available for an unexpected assignment about twice as long as the typical 2-week mobilization on an incident in the U.S.

But if the teams are stripped down to just 10 people each, it simplifies the process.

Based on requests from the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the U.S. has intermittently deployed more than 159 wildland USFS and DOI fire personnel throughout December and early January. The U.S. firefighters are filling critical wildfire and aviation management roles in New South Wales and Victoria.

The U.S., Australia, and New Zealand have been exchanging fire assistance for more than 15 years. Until the December deployments the last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010. In August of 2018, 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel were sent to the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Washington, Oregon, and California. The Australian and New Zealand personnel filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, heavy equipment, helicopter operations, and structure protection.

The ability for the U.S. to send firefighters to assist Australia and New Zealand is authorized in a formal agreement under the Emergency Wildfire Suppression Act. According to information from NIFC, “The agreement only permits the United States to send federal employees to Australia, which means that legally, the National Interagency Fire Center cannot mobilize non-federal employees, such as state and local firefighters, to Australia.”

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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. Google+

7 thoughts on “Australia requests U.S. Incident Management Teams to assist with bushfires”

  1. Bill You may be interested to know that in 1981 when I was National Director of Fire and Aviation Management I took a small group to Australia to exchange technologies, methods etc. that the two countries used in wildland fire fighting. In addition to myself,a regional fire director, State Forester, Researcher,Canadian Fire Coordinator,and Forest Service Coop-Fire Staff person. After returning I found we had no legal authority to send personnel,or equipment or borrow them and exchanging funds to do so. With the Administration’s OK and work with our legislation Staff ,I testified and got the Bill passed originally thu. Cong. Brooks Comm. (TX) . Slow to start untilizing the new authority we first started with Canada. I think you will find we have legally been sending personnel and equipment to Australia for over 15years,however never in the volumes sent so far in the 2019-20 season so far.

    1. Allen West, Thank you for sharing historical background, and for your efforts to lay the groundwork to make this international cooperation possible. During the 2000 Northern Rockies Fire Season, I had the pleasure to work with Australian and New Zealand staff imbedded with my IMT in Montana. In February 2010, I was selected for International Assignment to Australia, although my order was cancelled 3 days before departure when the Aussies changed their request. So I’m aware of the lengthy selection, authorization, clearance, verification process for international assignment.
      Shout out to NIFC staff, DOI Travel staff, USFS Travel Staff for making this all happen.

  2. With a little international cooperation and specific state department action, the passport requirement could probably be waived.

  3. I was an NWS Incident Meteorologist for over 10 years; assigned to many different Type I/II teams. I was sent to Australia in February 2011 and assisted the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) in Adelaide with their fire weather/fire behavior forecasts in February 2011. A truly awesome and memorable experience!

    I left the NWS in 2016. Contrary to rumor — I did not retire; I left on a contentious note over harassment. But, I still retained my qualification as a Technical Specialist (THSP: aka – “meteorologist”) and continue to work as an AD-THSP for the USFS for the last two years; mostly at geographic coordination centers (GACC’s). I want to return now to assist in anyway possible — just to be a “weather liaison” and help with forecasts — however, I would need to have one of the teams request me and then have it approved by an act of Congress. Very frustrating to sit on my hands and not to be able to do a damn thing.

  4. In 2003 NICC mobilized two short Type 1 Teams to Victoria for 30 days (ICT1, OSC1, PSC1, RESL, SITL and LSC1) for the Great Alpine Fires. A Type 1 crew was also sent made up of 5 Jumpers and 15 HS Sups. ICP was in a tiny town called Dargo and the 2 pubs in town were doing all the feeding. A fabulous experience and wonderful people. The hardest part was having two complete C&G staffs including ICs (one day, one night), shift change was interesting.

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