Mad Max outback vibe is how a Canadian man who is part of firefighting efforts in Australia described the area he’s working in to his dad who lives in Williams Lake.
“He got there on Dec. 22,” Harry Jennings said of his son, Kent Jennings, 32, who is acting as helibase manager in a small town called Tamworth, north of Sydney and west of the big fires.
“I’ve been keeping track of the fires on a website put up by the New South Wales Fire Service.”
Kent works and lives in Fort McMurray as a full-time forester with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and has been a firefighter for 15 years.
He was part of the second contingent of firefighters from Canada who were deployed to Australia.
Harry said Kent’s been ‘exported’ before to fight fires in other provinces a few times, but this is his first deployment outside of the country.
“It’s kind of a lifetime opportunity, even though it’s over Christmas. It was pretty heartening to see the stories on the internet of people in Australia and Australians that live here expressing their gratitude for the Canadians and Americans helping out.”
During the 2017 wildfires Harry, who is a retired agrologist and still works as an auxiliary for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development, helped out at the Cariboo Fire Centre and worked with a few people from Australia.
“It’s kind of neat in a reverse sort of way. Maybe I should have sent Kent this one man’s name who I worked with in Williams Lake, but I don’t know if he would have ever crossed paths with him.”
The deployment to Australia could be up to a month, he added, noting the deployments in B.C. are for two weeks at a time for people from out of province or country.
“And when they are coming from that far away, they might give them a few days off for a break and then another shift,” Harry added.
Kent and his twin brother, Scott, also a firefighter, were both right in the middle of the Fort McMurray fire in 2016.
“They’ve had right up close experience with towns burning up. Scott manages crews during the fire season and does other jobs in the off season. He also works for the Fort McMurray wildfire region in the summer time and around Alberta depending on what the needs are.”
Staying close to home for Christmas, Harry said he checks his e-mail pretty regularly to see if Kent has sent an update.
“He said he might try to do a Facetime call with us on Christmas Day but I’m sure it will depend on how busy they are.”
Years ago he would not have been able to say he was familiar with how busy his son could be in his job, but after his own experience working on the 2017 wildfires he saw how ‘crazy, busy and stressful’ it can be managing fires.
“I ended up being a helicopter dispatcher and helibase manager for two weeks here and it was the most stressful work period I’ve ever had in my life so I can absolutely identify,” he said.
”Then again, Kent’s got a lot more experience than I have.”