US aircrane pilot Kenny helping Ballarat's firefighting effort

ERICSSON Air Crane pilot Kenny Chapman washed aeroplanes as a teenager and now he travels the world fighting wildfires in giant water-bombing helicopters.

The American helicopter captain, now in his 16th Australian bushfire season, has become one of the most recognised air crane pilots in the country.

Based in Ballarat for the past three weeks, he has been helping to provide crucial air support to Victorian firefighters on the ground this summer.

When a call comes in, their crews have just 15 to 20 minutes to become airborne.

“We go out there, find a water source as close to the fire as we can and we start dropping,” he said.

“Everything’s fast paced.

“It’s very exciting, but I think it’s quite safe because of the people we work with and how they operate.

“People ask me if I’ve got a dangerous job, but in my opinion I’ve got one of the safest jobs out there.”

Mr Chapman said the sheer size of the aircraft, capable of carrying 9000 litres of water in one load and filling in 40 seconds, explained its ability to pack a punch in a fire emergency.

“Right now it’s the largest capacity in Australia,” he said.

Victoria currently has three Ericsson Air Cranes, including one based permanently in Ballarat.

For Mr Chapman, one of the 36 Ericsson pilots who rotate through the base each year, Ballarat has become “a second home”.

It has already been a busy season for his crew.

Mr Chapman said they had been responding to numerous fires, including several blazes caused by lightning strikes at Beaufort and Kryal Castle on Thursday.

He said firefighters’ ability to respond to wildfires had improved greatly over his 34 years as an Ericsson pilot.

“The biggest thing is communication and instant communication on a fire,” he said.

“Now they’ve got smart phones, cameras and infra red detectors, it’s just been an incredible improvement in such a short period of time,” he said.

rachel.afflick@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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