Kam Baker returns from battling fires in Canada

Returned: Superintendent Kam Baker spent over a month in Canada fighting fires. Photo: Rob Douglas.
Returned: Superintendent Kam Baker spent over a month in Canada fighting fires. Photo: Rob Douglas.

Rural Fire Service (RFS) Mid North Coast District manager superintendent Kam Baker has returned home from battling fires in British Colombia, Canada. 

He was part of a contingent of 49 Australians and worked as a helicopter coordinator (known in Australia as an air attack supervisor).

This involved flying over the fires and coordinating fire bombing operations with the ground crew.

"There was six of us we took in doing those sorts of roles and a heap of other people in incident management roles,” Superintendence Baker said. 

"We had two full Australian incident management teams with us as well.”

The call was made by the Canadian Agency Fire Coordination Centre (CAFCC) to enlist the help of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) after resources were stretched. 

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AFAC then looked at the request for assistance and spoke with each Australian State and territory for interest.

A register is used by the NSW RFS for firefighters to list their availability for overseas deployment.

“Once we get accepted on the register, we then do physicals and testing,” he said. 

"As soon as that call comes, we're good to go.”

Once the team arrived in Canada, they were briefed for two days. Then it was straight into 14 days of 14 hour shifts. After two days off, it was then another 14 days on the ground.

He was astonished by the sheer size of the fire and rated it as the worst he had seen in 37 years of service.

"I've never seen so much fire in all my years. The magnitude of it was phenomenal, just mind blowing,’’ Superintendent Baker said. 

“You just sit there of a night and go ‘wow what is happening.’

"You get settled into a rhythm but you get to a point where nothing surprises,” he said. 

I've never seen so much fire in all my years

Superintendent Kam Baker, Rural Fire Service Mid North Coast District manager

The group then debriefed before returning to Australia. 

“I wanted to get home by then,” he said.

"I was mentally exhausted and physically fatigued- we jumped five time zones going across and coming back.”

Superintendent Baker said an advantage of utilising Australian firefighters in the northern hemisphere is due to a difference in seasons. 

“Across the world we all fight forest fires the same.

"We all pretty much use the same techniques- our terminology might be a bit different but the basis is on the ground.

"At the end of the day, we're technically in winter- to go in the southern hemisphere we're in our off-fire season they're in their fire season,” he said. 

The 52-year-old admitted that he realistically has not stopped firefighting for the past 12 months.

That’s not to say that he would want to change a thing.

"The thing that drives nearly every firefighter across the world is the driver to help the community,” he said.

"That's what keeps you going, that's what makes you want to make a difference.”

He was visibly proud of his 17-year-old daughter who recently joined the service and thanked his family for supporting his fire missions. 

"Amazingly if you go to a lot of fire services around the world, it's a family and culture and you find the families just become involved and keep going.

"You can't do it without the support of your family- that's the most important thing,” he said.

He conceded that once he comes to retirement, he’ll likely stop firefighting.

"Your family have got to be so forgiving so when I do come to retirement, that'll probably be it for me,” he said. 

He urged all Mid North Coast residents to be vigilant during the bushfire season.

"The whole of the Mid North Coast is very dry. People need to have a bushfire survival plan.

"Don't just have a plan sitting on the shelf, they need to have a discussion with their family.

"They need to be engaged and know what to do if their is a fire in their area,” Superintendent Baker said.