Kieran Schultz is one of 32 specialist Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) firefighters across the state who rappel – or abseil – from a helicopter to control fires in remote areas.

“On the initial attack, 5 of us will be dropped into the fire. If all goes according to plan, we can round up the fire using chainsaws and rakehoes, without the need to bring in extra crews or machinery,” Kieran explains.

Often the fires are started by lightning in remote areas of forest and are controlled by rappel firefighters using dry firefighting techniques.

“When we get there, the fires are usually small and low-intensity, no more than a hectare or two.”

“The plan is to deploy to the fires quickly in the helicopter and control them before they grow and impact communities and the environment.”

Based at Ovens, near Myrtleford, Kieran started as a Project Firefighter at Bright in 2015. He jumped at the chance to join the rappel team when a position became available at the Heyfield work centre a few years later.

“There are a lot of perks to this role. On a day-to-day basis you work in some of the nicest parks and natural environment in the state, if not the country."

“I love the physical work and the feeling of doing something valuable for the community.”
Project Firefighter, Rappel

Kieran’s first year on rappel saw him deployed to multiple major fires in the devastating 2019/20 bushfire season.

“That year particularly, the fires were so big and intense. It’s not a role rappel is designed or equipped for, which can be frustrating,” he said.

"We were sent into the smaller fires, which we were able to stitch up before they got any bigger. In that sense, rappel plays a really important role, stopping those remote fires from spreading when resources are tied up at bigger fires."

When not deployed to fires, rappel teams help deliver FFMVic’s planned burning program, including hazardous tree assessment and treatment, and track clearing.

Rappel firefighting: dynamic teamwork and accelerated skills

“There are a lot of benefits for someone looking to apply for a rappel position. Your fireline exposure and skills will be accelerated, and you work with great people. There’s a great sense of camaraderie within the crews."

"The work attracts a certain kind of person. We need to be switched on and dynamic.  You have to get along well. You work closely with seven other people. If we get sent to a fire, we’re away for up to a week, jammed in a helicopter together and working on the fireline.”

According to Kieran, “you don’t have to be a superstar to be a rappeler.”

"If you’re a team player and willing to have a crack, that’s the most important thing. You don’t have to have mountains of fire experience.”

Elevating skills: rappel firefighting training and tradition

Recruits undergo 4 weeks of specialist training to master rappel techniques, beginning at the rappel tower at the Fire Equipment Development Centre in Altona. There, they must prove their proficiency in rappelling and emergency responses before they can advance to helicopter-based exercises.

"Throughout the season, we’re up in the chopper and rappelling at least once every 3 weeks.”

Since 1985, helicopter rappel crews have played a crucial role in Victoria’s fire management strategy. As integral members of FFMVic’s field staff, rappel teams operate out of Heyfield and Ovens. These demanding roles are ideal for individuals with exceptional fitness levels who thrive on distinctive challenges.

Join our ranks as Project Firefighters for the 2024/25 season

Forest Fire Management Victoria is recruiting Project Firefighters for the 2024/25 season from 4-28 July 2024.

This is your chance to make a profound impact, protect our communities, and preserve the beauty of our natural landscapes.

Recruitment window

4 to 28 July 2024


Open to all, with designated positions available for Aboriginal applicants, affirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

For more information on the roles and responsibilities, and to join this fulfilling journey, please visit Firefighting & employment.

More Our People, Their Stories

Discover more about the inspiring journeys and tales of our team who 'down tools' to play an important role in bushfire suppression and prevention activities, including planned burning.

Our People, Their Stories invites you to explore these impactful stories and the dynamic nature of firefighting.

Page last updated: 25/06/24