KFN firefighter Raelene Lamalice adjusts to hot Australia

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Although Raelene Lamalice is finding some operational differences in working to help Australia battle its forest fires, some things are the same as in the NWT.

“It’s the same goal – try to get the fire under control,” said Lamalice of the Hay River Reserve, one of four employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) who arrived in Australia on Jan. 18 for a month-long deployment.

Raelene Lamalice – pictured arriving in Melbourne on Jan. 18 – is one of four employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources now in Australia to help fight forest fires.
Photo courtesy of Department of Environment and Natural Resources

While the main goal is the same, she said the Australian firefighting structure and roles are a little bit different.

“So it’s just understanding what the position is and what their objectives are,” said Lamalice, who is working in a support role for daily operations and planning.

Another difference is language, or more precisely dialect and accent.

“I think the challenge is understanding a little more their Australian terms and whatnot,” said Lamalice, noting Australians sometimes speak a little faster. “You kind of have to ask them sometimes to slow it down.”

The 28-year-old Lamalice spoke to The Hub by telephone in late January from Tallancatta, a city of about 35,000 people in the northeast of the Australian state of Victoria, near the border with the state of New South Wales.

She began her deployment in Wodonga, a town of about 1,000 people roughly 40 kilometres from Tallancatta. Wodonga has an incident control centre for natural disasters like fires and floods.

“We were utilizing that and we’ve now relocated here to Tallancatta where it’s a little bit closer to the fire,” she explained.

Lamalice’s job has been to keep track of the personnel fighting the fire.

“This role is a little bit different than what I had done back in the Northwest Territories in a sense of tracking,” she explained. “Back in the Northwest Territories, I would be tracking heavy equipment, personnel and aircraft. Where here, it’s just strictly personnel tracking.”

Lamalice said it has been great to help the firefighters in Australia.

“It’s kind of like a nice little sense of giving them a little bit of relief and having them maybe leave their normal work tasks that they’ve been at for a really long time and have them go back home to their families,” she said.

And the Australians have appreciated the help.

“Even walking through the airport when we were coming in, individuals were coming up and thanking us,” Lamalice noted. “If you’re in the town that we’re in, they’re also thanking us, especially if a group of us were together. Even people on the team that we’re working alongside, they’re definitely appreciative that we’re here.”

The fire that Lamalice is helping to battle has been burning since late December.

“So they have been working on this fire for a really long time and they do appreciate us coming in and giving them a little break from it for a while,” she said.

Lamalice appreciates the thanks offered by the Australians.

“It’s really nice to hear, and I’m glad that I can help out,” she said.

Lamalice, a member of K’atlodeeche First Nation and a resident of the Hay River Reserve, has also had to answer some questions about the North from interested Australians.

“They’re definitely interested to know how the Northwest Territories is,” she said. “The first thing maybe was the weather conditions and how hot it was when we left. When we left, we were in a cold weather warning of minus 40 to minus 50, and since being here it’s 40.”

In fact, she noted that 40C is an average summertime temperature for the part of Australia in which she is working.

Lamalice said she is still getting used to those temperatures, noting it is in the high 30Cs even at night.

She and the three other employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are scheduled to return home on Feb. 15.

Raelene Lamalice, centre, of the Hay River Reserve is one of several employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources who have been deployed to help fight fires in Australia. Lamalice is pictured at the Vancouver airport on Jan. 16 with other ENR employees Marlon Labach, left, and Spencer Porter as they await their flight to Australia.
Photo courtesy of Department of Environment and Natural Resources

This is believed to be the first time that the NWT has sent firefighting personnel to Australia.

In the NWT, Lamalice is an administrative assistant with ENR’s forest management division, which has offices on the Hay River Reserve.

She has previously served outside of the NWT a number of times in a system that shares firefighting resources among various jurisdictions – in Alberta in 2016, in B.C. in 2017 and in Ontario in 2018.

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