A Book About Aussie Firefighters and Black Saturday

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This isn’t a book review.  I’ve spent enough time in literature classes, learning to  hate those.  Instead, I’ll just point out some things I found interesting.  Part of my love of wildland fire is the nomadic lifestyle it necessitates and Fire in the Eucalypts at it’s core is the manifestation of one Student of Fire’s Journey to another Continent. Larson was doing what he loved and was inspired to do, follow the fires and fight them. Live it up.  See new places, meet new people and learn more about fire.  He was 24 when arriving in Australia. The book follows those ramblings to their  unforeseen side effects, which involve a return to Australia 5 years Later in order to achieve a compartmentalized sanity following the devastation which killed 173 people in 2009.  The tragedy has become known as Black Saturday and Larson responded to IA the day of the event, followed by a month of nightshift. screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-9-45-28-am

Aside from the Canucks Celsius vs. Fahrenheit bias, the Australian realm of firefighting compared alongside the Canadian realm of firefighting didn’t veer too far from the american side of firefighting.  In Australia it sounded like the “crew rigs” were landcruisers and the pumpers or engines were“slip ons” toyota Hilux pick ups.  All in favor of getting some of those for America, say Aye! 

 It was that universal language of fire I connected with; It’s a language where slang and dialect take a backseat to the big show ripping up hillsides and dropping trees, hundreds of years in the making.  Larson has this beautiful aphorism for the overall feeling, which can be intoxicating, euphoric, an adventurous adrenaline you undergo when responding as Initial Attack to a new fire. He says, in reference to his First Australian IA:

“There is a strange feeling that comes over a group of people when they know they are about to fight a fire.  The mix of excitement and trepidation from the rookies coupled with the veterans stoic faces creates a tension in the air that I cannot compare to any other situation.  A dynamic bond is shared by the rookies looking for the veterans to give them strength, while in turn the veterans look at the rookies with a nostalgic amusement.  This is a powerful but unseen force that is not always appreciated.”

And the camaraderie was evidently the similar, revolving around rowdy afterwork conversation and spur of the moment hunting excursions.  Whereas we go after ducks and grouse and deer and elk and rabbits and bears, they have kangaroo and wild dogs, rabbits and other invasive non-native species threatening their ecosystems. I was reminded of the mongoose introduction into Hawaii and the brown trout, among others.

On a different note, in relation to the tragedy Harold Larson confronts, there was an investigation into the incident, with a long list of recommended changes. The collective of people heading the investigation was referred to as “a Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission” and with their findings, 67 recommendations were made.  Here is a link to the final investigation report, which is organized into 4 volumes, an extremely daunting and involved collection(http://www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Commission-Reports/Final-Report.html.  One point raised by the author was a lack of radios among fire personnel.  Because there were no firefighter fatalities, the issue wasn’t brought
to the forefront, although it seems everything else in the organization would only benefit from such a move.  I know through the fatality fires in the US, many recommendations concerning communication have become the forefront of discussion.   

I found this book to be very refreshing when paled against the small background of wildland fire literature available.  Part of this was due to the writing quality, Part due to it being winter and being out of the fire world currently, and mostly because I was able to glimpse a foreign land involved with the same fascinating conundrum of wildland fire.    

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