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Minister welcomes returning Kiwi firefighters

Hon Rick Barker
Minister of Internal Affairs

20 August 2008

Minister welcomes returning Kiwi firefighters

Rick Barker, Internal Affairs Minister today welcomed the safe return of nine rural firefighters from a 34-day tour of duty in California, the fifth such deployment to the USA since 2000.

“They put themselves at considerable risk,” Mr Barker said. “We can be proud of the tradition of international support New Zealand firefighters have created. This is a reciprocal relationship, and we know that in a time of need we would receive assistance from the Americans.”

The group was part of a 44-strong New Zealand/Australian team that assisted with some of the 300 wildfires that burned throughout California in June and July. The fires burned more than 1800 square kilometres, destroying more than 70 homes and threatening many townships.

One of those directly involved in organising the assistance was the Acting National Rural Fire Officer, Gary Lockyer. “The assistance provided by the firefighters was well received by our American colleagues,” Mr Lockyer said. “New Zealanders filled key middle management positions. They were praised for their work as task force leaders, fire line division managers, and aircraft managers. This allowed their American colleagues to take time off during the long and very busy fire season in California.”

Less than a month ago New Zealand signed a similar mutual assistance fire arrangement with the Provinces and Territories of Canada.

“This brought to three the number of such arrangements we have,” Mr Barker said. “The Australian State of Victoria is our other partner.”

Mr Barker sees the fire fighting arrangements as excellent models for the future.

“With changing climatic conditions there will be increasing risks for catastrophic events to overwhelm local communities,” he said. “Mobilising skilled people from a larger resource pool will help counter these growing threats. Our firefighters have shown that they can slot directly into the operations of other countries, providing skilled and highly valued assistance. This reflects well on us all.”

The nine member New Zealand group comprised: Nick McCabe, Waimea Rural Fire Authority, Nelson; Matt Flynn, Department of Conservation, Blenheim; Mike Sullivan, Aupouri KariKari Rural Fire Authority, Whangarei; Trevor Bullock, Department of Conservation, Kerikeri; Nathan Keoghan, West Coast Rural Fire Authority, Westport; Trevor Tidey, Southern Rural Fire Authority, Otautau; Rachel Thorp, Department of Conservation, Wellington; Jock Darragh, Wellington City Council; and Alan Thompson, Hutt City Council.


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