It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's a firefighter |VIDEO, PICTURES

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TONY Grey had a different view of last year’s Harrietville fire, flying above in a helicopter before rappelling on to the fire ground.

The rappel crew leader and field services officer yesterday discussed the importance of their work ahead of a routine training session at Ovens.

Mr Grey said rappelling was an extremely efficient way to help control fires in inaccessible terrain.

He said rappel crews had been integral to fighting the Harrietville blaze that was sparked by lightning last January and burnt 37,000 hectares.

“Crews were involved from the get-go,” Mr Grey said.

“During the course of the fire the rappel crews built a number of helipads so the crew could be transported in.

“We were needed in fairly inaccessible areas where the fire broke containment lines.

“We got in and did a fair bit of work.”

There are two seven-member rappel crews based at Ovens during this fire season and another two at Heyfield, East Gippsland.

Mr Grey is in his fifth season as a Department of Environment and Primary Industries rappeller and had previously operated a bulldozer for the department.

“Being out in the bush is the best office in the world,” he said.

“It’s fantastic flying around in the high country and teamwork is a big part of it.”

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But fighting fires does have risks.

“The rappelling side of it is straightforward,” he said.

“The danger is once you are on the ground.

“The nature of the fire itself is the dangerous part and you are working in steep terrain, so there can be falling rocks and trees.”

The rappel crew conduct skills training every 14 to 20 days.

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