Peter Brick stands next to a helicopter before taking a helicopter flight while on a wildland fire management assignment in Canada, 2023.
BY PETER BRICK
As the international wildland fire community grapples with increased fire activity, we coordinate closely with partner countries like Australia, and every year, we learn more about their employees and fire programs. We recently chatted with Peter Brick, Senior Emergency Management Capability Specialist for the Australian state of Victoria’s Forest Fire Management, about bushfire management in Australia, his career, and the small-world nature of wildland fire management.
What is your current position?
I am a Senior Emergency Management Capability Specialist for the Australian state of Victoria’s Forest Fire Management, which is our land management and bushfire agency. I am also an Incident Controller, which is equivalent to an incident commander in the U.S. Incident controllers manage large, complex natural disasters, like wildfires. My position involves all types of emergency management, such as storms and floods.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Bushfire management – or wildland fire management in the U.S. – is led by the states in Australia, which is different than other countries like the U.S., where wildland fire management is handled by the federal government and then the states have their own state fire programs. I am in a statewide role, so I work with the teams around the state on our capabilities and needs for fire response.
A lot of us in these positions have a dual role, so as an incident controller, I can be responsible for fighting fires anywhere in the state, along with other emergencies. Prior to my Canadian deployment, my last deployments were for floods and an extreme windstorm disaster.
How did you become interested in a wildland fire management?
While studying at university, I took a class based on a subject called Fire and the Australian Environment. It got me hooked on firefighting and incident management, and I wanted to learn more. I then took a seasonal firefighting position in Victoria for several summers before gaining fulltime employment. I’ve never looked back. Seasonal positions allow you to try out emergency management or bushfire work to see if you want a career in this field, which is pretty efficient if you aren’t completely sure which direction you want to take. This is a great career; I get to be outside, implementing prescribed burns and other actions. Some of best times I’ve had have been when I’ve been out in the bush.
What is your favorite part about working in wildland fire management?
The variety: it’s quite unique to have these careers that are like two in one. I can work as a firefighter, or in incident management, or serve in a support role, so it’s like having two jobs as one.
The people: I really enjoy working with people. We’re saving communities and protecting the environment, which is really rewarding. The people I work with really do care about protecting the environment in Australia, and they are passionate about what they do.
The international fire community is also surprisingly small, which means you meet amazing people and then you end up working with them throughout your career – or seeing them years later on a fire assignment. For example, in 2020, when Australia was grappling with one of the worst fire years in history, I met and briefed a couple of U.S. wildland firefighters who were on a hotshot crew from Arizona. More than three years later, while assigned to a wildfire in Canada near Rainbow Lake, 11 hours north of Edmonton, I met and briefed them again – halfway across the world – which is rather coincidental if you think about how, in the U.S. alone, there are more than 17,000 federal wildland firefighters. The international wildland firefighting community is actually smaller than you think, which is great for building lasting, professional relationships that can lead to even more opportunities and adventures.
Do you have any advice for people who may be interested in this career field?
I think it helps to have a passion and interest for broader land management. In Australia, fire is an important part of our landscape, so it’s helpful to have an interest in natural resources and how fire affects our ecosystems. This knowledge helps me with the broader perspective; it’s not just managing wildfire, (or bushfires in Australia), but how wildfire management fits into the landscape, how we can best manage wildfire for the health of our ecosystems, and how we can improve for the future.
Also, if you’re considering a career in this field: try a seasonal position. In Australia, we hire about 600 seasonal wildland fire employees every year, which is a great opportunity for interested candidates to try it out for a season. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to return the following year, or if they do like it, they can explore a wildland fire career. I started as a seasonal 25 years ago, and here I am coordinating wildland fire management across the state. I’ve been able to travel all over Australia and to other countries; it’s a rewarding job and you just never know where it might lead.
Peter Brick is a Senior Emergency Management Capability Specialist for the Australian state of Victoria’s Forest Fire Management. Peter has more than 25 years of wildland fire management experience in Australia and has served in wildland fire assignments throughout Australia, the U.S., and Canada. He is currently preparing for Australia’s 2023 fire year, as they typically experience bushfire activity in the fall and winter months.