An advert calling for applications for Project Fire Fighter (PFF) roles at Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) at the local Country Fire Association (CFA) station six years ago caught the eye of Sarah Elson.
The advert spiked her interest, especially since it meant if she became a PFF she would be able to learn more about bushfire behaviour – a topic that fascinated her.
“Like most people I had a basic understanding of bushfire behaviour, but I wanted to develop my knowledge further,” Sarah said.
“Being involved in FFMVic’s fuel reduction burns I would be able to see first-hand how fire reacts in different landscapes found in Gippsland and the different fuel reduction techniques used.”
After gaining her accreditation as a FFMVic General Firefighter, Sarah decided to become a rappel PFF.
With much of Victoria’s public land in remote, inaccessible areas, FFMVic employs 32 specialist firefighters to quickly suppress any potential fires in these areas. To do this these firefighters rappel out of hovering helicopters to the ground and utilise dry firefighting methods to suppress the fire.
Sarah said she was attracted to the role by the opportunity to learn new skills.
“On rappel you are often working in very remote locations that very few people get to see or visit, you feel very privileged being able to visit these sites,” she said.
Sarah’s favourite things about working with FFMVic are the people she meets and works alongside of.
“Every day in this job you meet new people that have so much to offer,” she said.
“Especially on rappel, the crew you work with becomes something of a family, every day presents new challenges for you to overcome but you’re never worried and you’re always having fun because your best friends are right there next to you.”
She advises prospective PFFs to be flexible, adaptable, and embrace change.
“Be a sponge; soak up new skills and knowledge and enjoy getting out into environment every day.
“It is an exciting and rewarding job.”
Sarah is currently employed at FFMVic as a Forest Fire Operations Officer as well as the deputy crew leader of one of the two rappel crews based at the Heyfield depot in Gippsland.
FFMVic employs several hundred project firefighters each year, at more than 80 locations around Victoria. PFFs help suppress bushfires and assist in prevention works, including planned burning.