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Firefighters turn world upside down
While a Victoria firefighter is down under dodging kangaroos on his bicycle, an Australian firefighter is in Victoria layering up to keep out the colder weather.
The reason? It’s the result of an international exchange in which two families have swapped lives for one year.
Andrew Wood, lead firefighter at the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne, Australia arrived in Victoria with his wife in mid-March.
For the last two years, he’s worked with both the Melbourne Fire Brigade and Victoria Fire Department to coordinate the exchange with Victoria firefighter Rob Rutherford.
The first exchange through the Victoria Fire Department occurred around 1999, said Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce, when one firefighter went to Perth, Australia.
The last exchange was about 10 years ago.
Throughout the years, there were several inquiries from firefighters in Australia, New Zealand and Victoria about the possibility of an exchange.
It was not until Rutherford and Wood got connected and pursued the idea that anything came of it.
“These requests always piqued my interest as I felt that an exchange would provide me and my family with tremendous career and life experiences,” said Rutherford.
Rutherford, who is now living in Melbourne with his wife and two daughters, is doing a complete house and car swap with Wood.
Wood said the biggest shocks when he got here were the cold and the bigger food portions.
“[I’m] having to keep the exercise up while I’m over here,” he said.
One thing Rutherford said he misses is being able to function as a family without a vehicle as they do in Victoria.
“Work is now an hour-long commute into Melbourne by train instead of a 10 minute walk,” said Rutherford.
Being on exchange gives prime opportunities for both men to share and learn new firefighting methods.
“I have been able to use my experience with VFD’s high angle rescue team to cross train with counterparts in the MFB and will be able to demonstrate the subtle differences in technique when I return home,” said Rutherford.
One of Wood’s main reasons for coming to Victoria was to learn about the Victoria Fire Boat.
“We’re only just now in infancy of getting a marine department running [in Melbourne],” said Wood.
The Melbourne Fire Brigade will be deploying its own fire boat, a Canadian-built Firestrom 40, in October, said Rutherford. He will be involved in the program’s development.
In terms of firefighting, Wood said the Victoria Fire Department is more advanced than the Melbourne Fire Brigade in many ways. For example, he said he would like to take back the VFD’s method of positive pressure, which involves using a fan to aid in firefighting.
Both families have been getting involved with local athletics.
“One thing I love culture-wise is how sport-crazy people are over here,” said Wood, adding that he followed the Victoria Royals through the playoffs and has been getting into the Shamrocks.
Meanwhile, Rutherford said he and his family have become hooked on Australian football. They have also gotten involved in surfing and scuba diving.
Although he loves Victoria, Wood said he and his wife would probably never move here permanently, because of family back home.
“We both come from big families, so we miss them,” said Wood. “And my football team [is] doing well, so I miss that.”
Although Wood is working here in Victoria and Rutherford is taking his place for the year in Melbourne, each of them are still getting paid through their home departments.
“They’re both what I would say honorary members of each other’s local, but they pay dues to their home local,” said Bruce.
“Rob is still on his Canadian benefits and still being paid by the City of Victoria, but he’s actually working in Melbourne, and vice versa. Andrew’s here working for us, but [his] pay, his holiday entitlements and everything are facilitated through Melbourne.”
In the future when Wood and his wife have kids, he said they would like to look into going on another exchange, possibly in a country where English is not the first language.
“Maybe I’ll get my wife, she’s a teacher, to do the exchange and I won’t work for a year,” said Wood.
“It’s such a fantastic experience; not only for your career and for learning about firefighting techniques, but for your family, for culture, for seeing the world.”