National Interagency Fire Center

 

United States Resources Mobilized to Australia

Updated January 16, 2020

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As wildfires continue to burn in Australia, the United States has been sending U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) wildfire personnel to assist with ongoing wildfire suppression efforts.

Based on requests from the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the U.S. has intermittently deployed 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.

Status of Personnel

  • US personnel currently assigned to Australia: 142

  • US personnel assigned-to-date to Australia: 164

  • A sixth group of personnel is anticipated to be mobilized soon and to include:

    • 3 10-person Incident Management Teams

    • 2 20-person hand crews 

Currently assigned Personnel


Group (Location)

Total U.S. Personnel

Group 2 (New South Wales)

9

Group 3 (New South Wales / Victoria)

42

Group 4 (New South Wales)

20

Group 5 (Victoria)

59

Support Personnel (Various)

12

Total Currently Assigned

142


The Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council first requested U.S. assistance in late November, and 21 wildland USFS and DOI fire personnel were mobilized on December 5.

The Council then requested additional assistance in mid-December, and the U.S. sent another nine DOI and USFS personnel on December 19. A group of 44 USFS and DOI personnel departed December 30 to meet a third Council request, and another 21 USFS and DOI personnel departed for Australia on January 4 to replace the first group of personnel who departed on December 5.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has received another Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council request that includes several Type I Incident Management Teams (IMTs) who specialize in managing wildland fire incidents, and other qualified personnel, such as aircraft managers, firefighting crews, and chainsaw operators. The National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) is working to fill this request; we anticipate a departure date of sometime next week, around January 16, 2020.

After arriving in Australia, the U.S. firefighters are given the rest of the arrival day to acclimate to the new time zone and their new surroundings. They then receive operational and safety briefings from Australian fire authorities. After thorough briefings and a safety measure review, U.S. firefighters integrate and work closely with Australian firefighters.

International Agreement and U.S. Firefighter Mobilization

  • The U.S., Australia and New Zealand have been exchanging fire assistance for more than 15 years. The most recent exchange occurred in August of 2018, when 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 Northern California and the Northwest. 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 last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010. 

  • The relationship with Australia is based on the Operating Plan defined by the Wildfire Arrangement Between the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America and the Australian and New Zealand Participating Agencies. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America entered into this contract under the Emergency Wildfire Suppression Act as Amended, U.S. Public Law 100-428, 42 USC, Section 1856m. Link to Australian International Arrangement: https://goo.gl/sFTkN8. Link to New Zealand International Arrangement: https://goo.gl/RyaL4X.

  • 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. 

  • The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group, comprised of federal and state wildland fire representatives, works with the National Interagency Coordination Center based at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, to mobilize resources and distribute Australian assistance requests across interagency partners.  

  • For information about the U.S. firefighter deployments, please call the NIFC Fire Information Line: 208-387-5050.

Current Australian Fire Situation

Because emergency management in Australia is a state responsibility, detailed information can be found at the following websites:

Questions and Answers

Q. Will contract and non-federal fire personnel be able to assist with the Australian wildfires under the international agreement?
A. No, our international agreement only authorizes the sharing of federal employees.   Here is a link to the Australian International Arrangement: https://goo.gl/sFTkN8.

Q.  Why isn’t the U.S. sending airtankers to Australia?
A. Australia has contracts with many of the same airtanker companies as the U.S. Many of the airtankers that are on contract in the U.S. during our summer months are on contract in Australia for their peak months of activity.

Q.  Why isn't the U.S. sending equipment to Australia?
A. Australia has adequate equipment capability and has not requested any additional equipment. We have sent qualified engine operators to augment staffing on their fire engines.

Q.  Why aren't we sending more people? 
A. Before resources are sent to Australia, we must have an official request from the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council.

Q. Is it common for the United States and Australia and New Zealand to support each other during respective fire seasons?
A. The U.S. and Australia and New Zealand have provided technical and operational support in wildland fire management to one another for over 50 years. The two countries share similar wildfire issues and have benefited from each other’s knowledge and experience. Wildland fire management cooperation is delineated in policy and support agreements signed by the two nations in 2002. Australia and the U.S. have conducted exchanges in techniques, policies and information as far back as 1964. Australia has sent fire management specialists to the U.S. six times since 2000. The United States has sent firefighters and fire managers to assist with Australia’s fire season four times since 2003.

Q. What type of international agreement supports this type of assistance?
A. The relationship with Australia and New Zealand is based on the Operating Plan defined by the Wildfire Arrangement Between the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America and the Australian and New Zealand Participating Agencies. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America entered into this contract under the Emergency Wildfire Suppression Act as Amended, U.S. Public Law 100-428, 42 USC, Section 1856m. Link to Australian International Arrangement: https://goo.gl/sFTkN8. Link to New Zealand International Arrangement: https://goo.gl/RyaL4X.
The agreement permits the exchange of federal wildland firefighters only; it does not legally provide for the mobilization of state, local, and volunteer firefighters. This is a legally binding document and therefore, NIFC cannot send non-federal employees to Australia.

Q. Are there differences between Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. in managing wildfires?
A. Australian, New Zealand and U.S. wildland firefighters share a common system for managing wildland fires called the Incident Command System (ICS) along with similar training regimens and physical fitness requirements. Localized differences and terminology are being reviewed to ensure our international firefighters will be up to speed on those differences. Firefighters in Australia and New Zealand encounter some of the most challenging wildfires in the world. They are highly skilled in meeting many of the same tasks U.S. firefighters face, including wildland fires in urban-interface areas, fighting fire under difficult terrain, fuels, and weather conditions, and integrating aerial and ground resources on fires. U.S. firefighters fit well into the Australian wildland firefighting system.

Q. Will all of the U.S. firefighters be assigned to the same fire?
A. Not necessarily. Their assignments will be based on the shortage of assets for their particular qualification. A portion of the U.S. firefighters may work together on a particular incident and others may be assigned as single resources depending on the current situation, though they are all working closely with Australian firefighters and Australian fire authorities.


Q. Who pays the cost for deploying U.S. firefighters to Australia?
A. All reimbursable costs will be handled per the Operating Plan under the international agreement. The costs of salary, travel, lodging, meals, and other expenses normally covered by the U.S. will be reimbursed by the Australian government.

Q: What other assistance has the United States provided Australia? 
USAID announced $100,000 in humanitarian assistance to Australia’s 2020 bushfire affected areas, and is deploying foreign disaster assistance advisors to support the wildfire response. Visit https://usaid.link/ausfire to learn more.