canada / Australia

Fighting fires from the skies around the world

31 Dezember 2010

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Canada / Australia — To say Kevin McCormick sit in the hotseat for his daily work is a little bit of an understatement. On an average working day he is just metres above some of the world’s most dangerous bushfires.
Print Email this Share Permalink South Australia is a long way from his home in Canada, but Kevin McCormick travels where his work takes him.

And for Kevin, his work is piloting bomber helicopters through smoke and debris to help tackle some of the world’s worst bushfires.

Kevin’s home in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, shares similarities with his southern summer home at the moment of Adelaide.

Both are modern cities surrounded by dense natural growth.

Adelaide with the picturesque Mount Lofty Ranges, and Prince George with the Forests of the World and McMillan Creek Regional Park edging the cities with vast areas of combustible foliage.

The step from regular flying to aerial fire fighting was almost a natural progression for Kevin.

“The Canadian helicopter industry is rather heavily based in forest industry and mining industry, so a lot of your work, initially straight out of flight school is in the bush.

“Very soon after you start you will be on a fire operation of some sort.”

Starting in the smaller support aircraft, Kevin has progressed from the observational and support roles into the frontline fire fighting roles over the years in what he describes with a laugh as ‘trial by fire’.

What may appear as chaotic from the grounds is a carefully structured operation carried out with military precision when aerial support is called in.

Under normal procedures, once a fire requires air support the fixed-wing air tractor airplanes are launched first, followed by the Bell 205 helicopters which Kevin is a pilot of, then the monstrous Erickson air-crane.

The Bell 205 can pump, carry and dump 1200 litres of water, with the air-crane able to transport 10,000 litres.

Both series of aircraft are able to pump water from dams and reservoirs, whilst hovering above the surface.

“Wherever we find a water source we can get water and apply the [fire] retardant.”

The smaller Bell 205s can then cycle from the fire front to the water source, providing an almost continual downpour of water along the fire’s edge.

Juggling communications with other government agencies, monitoring the helicopter’s performance in the extreme conditions, and essentially fighting the fires, Kevin says inside the cockpit is ‘very, very busy but very systematic’.

With one of the most exciting work environments in the world, Kevin says apart from the continual waiting to be called in, there are the odd days when he ponders on what it would be like to be doing a desk-bound job.

“They’re more because we spend a lot of time away from family.

“You do spend an extended period away from home in remote locations sometimes.”

Luckily, Kevin says, his employers are very good at realising this and making sure a healthy balance is kept between flight and family time.

Kevin will be based in Australia till early April 2011.

Before he finishes his tour Down Under, Kevin hopes he will be able to learn the rules of cricket, and may even pledge allegiance to a local football team.

“Hopefully by then I’ll have picked a team.

“I’m sure someone will guide me in the right direction.”


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