Insider Guide: managing fire from the skies

Go behind the scenes to discover the unique jobs and passionate people that care for South Australia’s environment.

Rob Laver – Fire Management Officer – Operational Capacity

How would you describe your job to someone at a BBQ?

I am a Fire Management Officer focusing on Operational Capacity for the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources and my role includes undertaking fire-related activities such as prescribed burning and responding to bushfires during summer.

The Operational Capacity part of my role means that I also look after the coordination of machinery, equipment and aircraft to ensure efficient delivery of fire management operations. I also provide advice on strategies that help with the Prescribed Burn program and bushfire response.

How did you get into this line of work?

After two years of driving around Australia in a Kombi in the mid 90s I became aware of my passion for the outdoors. So when I returned to Adelaide the decision to enrol at the University of South Australia to undertake Conservation and Park Management as a mature age student wasn’t a hard one.

After I graduated I was lucky enough to land a ranger position in the Mallee which was the foundation of things to come.

What do you encounter in a ‘normal’ day on the job?

Every day is a little different which makes coming to work more appealing. This changes with the seasons – for instance, in summer I am on call as an air attack supervisor and aerial observer for the Country Fire Service to respond to fires anywhere around the state.

I am also on call as a State Coordinator which means I coordinate DEWNR’s capacity to respond to fires on public lands across the entire state.

In autumn and spring I am part of the aerial ignition team that assists with carrying out prescribed burns across the state.

In winter I mostly assist in managing the fire machinery and equipment, along with training our next generation of firefighters.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve encountered on the job?

The most difficult thing I have endured in the job is witnessing the devastation that bushfires can impose on people’s lives, their homes and the environment, and how this affects the community.

What are your insider tips about the work you do?

My useful tip for undertaking fire suppression or aerial ignition from an aircraft is that you need to have a strong stomach as you are often flying in hot and turbulent conditions, with your head in a map book, which can tend to turn people a bit green around the gills. A packet of Kwells and a sick bag could be useful.

You also need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to different situations as they arise – because they will!

We’re midway through the Autumn Prescribed Burns Season in South Australia. For the most up-to-date information on prescribed burns sign up to our stay informed newsletter or follow @SADEWNR on Twitter.

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