Fighting fires: Canada to the NSW South Coast

Kevin Parkinson CanadianFirefighter

Canadian firefighter Kevin Parkinson was deployed to Australia during the 2019/20 fire season.

He felt so welcomed and appreciated in Australia that he moved himself and his family across the world to take up an opportunity as a Planning and Fire Behaviour Officer with NSW RFS Area South Eastern in Batemans Bay just 12 months later.

Kevin was one of 34 Alberta staff chosen to come and assist Australia in its time of need during the devastating fires of 2019/20. For Kevin, the experience proved to be challenging but rewarding.

"Since I started fighting fires back in 1994, I had always wanted to come down and fight fires in Australia, previously it just never happened," Parkinson said.

"Coming into a new system is always difficult, especially when it is as busy as it was," he said. 

"I spent my entire 31-day deployment based in the Moruya Fire Control Centre as an Operations Officer, which was great as I was able to build a good relationship with local and other international staff.

"There was lots to learn but it was a great team to work with."

Kevin found the transition into the NSW RFS system quite simple as the command and operations structures in Australia and Canada are so similar, coupled with the fact he was deployed alongside staff from Canada that he already knew.

"To show how small the fire world is, I was stationed with a woman from Ontario who had actually just spent 36 days working on fires in my district during our summer,” said Kevin. “Everyone was amazing – they were all very friendly, helpful and made the transition so much easier."

Fire Burn generic

"One thing for me that made a huge difference was that I wasn’t just part of a team but part of the family. It was definitely a challenging deployment, and there were some very active and difficult fire days, but everyone blended together so well it all went as smoothly as you could hope."

Kevin brings 26 years of fire industry experience with him from Canada. He started his career in 1994, where he worked for a contract company for six years in British Columbia.

He then moved to Alberta, spending the next 20 years of his career in a range of roles including as a Rapattack Initial Attack Firefighter, a Wildfire Ranger, Wildfire Technologist and Operation Officer.

As a Wildfire Operation Officer for the last decade, Kevin was responsible for the entire operations of a wildfire district 5.6 million hectares in size, overseeing nine permanent staff and 120 contract staff during the fire season.

When Kevin returned home to Alberta in February 2020, he reflected on his time in Australia and reached out to a number of NSW RFS staff to find out if there were any career opportunities.

"To be honest, a very large motivator for my decision was the people within the NSW RFS and the communities," Parkinson said.

"I have never felt so welcomed and appreciated like I did while down here. The pride of the staff and volunteers was just amazing, and the resilience showed how amazing everyone is.

Credit: NSW Rural Fire Service