In the field with… Air Intelligence Officer Matt Sangston
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) is getting
ahead of the fire fight from two thousand feet.
Throughout the bushfire season DFES operates a fleet of
aircraft out of Jandakot and Serpentine airports, and several regional areas, to boost firefighting
The fleet is part of the air operations division and is made
up of specially trained firefighters who work as Air Attack Supervisors and Air
Firefighter Matt Sangston is now in his third season as an
air intel officer and enjoys the mentally demanding pace.
“We sit next to the pilot in the chopper and we’re basically
mission commander, for want of a better word, of the helicopter tasked with gathering
vital data about a bushfire,” Matt said.
“Our job is to map the fire zone, outline the length of the
fire front, what direction it’s travelling in, and how fast it’s going.
“We can see any if there are any structures in the path of
the fire or if there are any crews under threat then communicate that
information to the team on the ground.”
The air intel helicopter operates at a height of approximately
2,500 feet and is equipped with state of the art technology.
“There’s a defence grade camera attached to the chopper which
shows what’s happening on the ground in incredible detail, and we’re able to
move and focus the camera so we can zoom in on certain things,” Matt said.
“The thermal imaging equipment and geospatial computers
allow us to see the fire, see people, animals and structures on the ground,
record and store that vision.”
Matt says the work of the air intel crew continues well after
the bushfire is contained and clean-up has started.
“There was a recent incident where I flew the morning after a
massive bushfire and we found some hotspots that were outside the fire zone,
some of those spots were 500 metres ahead and the ground crews didn’t know.
“We were able to radio to ground crews, they got on top of
it and prevented the fire possibly starting up again.”
Originally a firefighter for 14 years, Matt says he enjoys
work that’s both mentally challenging and rewarding.
“It’s a great job, I’ve always been interested in aircraft