12 February 2016
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is deploying a second wave of five firefighters to Tasmania this weekend as authorities there gear up for another month of battling the bushfires.
“We are continuing our assistance to the Tasmania Fire Service as there are still a significant number of fires that can potentially threaten communities in the north and northwest of the state,” said Air Commodore (AIRCDRE) Kevin McEvoy, the Acting Commander Joint Forces New Zealand.
“The rotation of our firefighting crew is to ensure our people get adequate rest. They work in extremely tough conditions and up to 12 hours each day. But they are determined to help and the Australians have appreciated that.”
The current team of NZDF firefighters – four from the New Zealand Army and one from the Royal New Zealand Air Force – have been helping Tasmania’s fire crews since 29 January and will be relieved by the second team on 14 February. They form part of a 43-strong Kiwi contingent organised by New Zealand’s National Rural Fire Authority.
Warrant Officer Class 1 Brent Ruruku, who is leading the NZDF contingent currently battling the wildfires at Arthur River in northwest Tasmania, said working with the Australians has been a great opportunity to enhance their skills.
“It has been great working with them as a joint force. For us, this deployment has confirmed that our skill sets are aligned with international standards,” he said.
To get to their work area, the NZDF firefighters have to drive over 50 kms of dirt road and carry all their equipment, food packs and water supplies over two kms of steep terrain.
“The temperature reaches up to 30 degrees but it feels hotter because of the special gear we use – long sleeves, helmets, gloves and boots – and the physical exertion that our work entails. Each of us drinks up to five litres of water each day to keep ourselves hydrated,” WO1 Ruruku said.
“Apart from the intense fires, we have encountered snakes and spiders. We are always conscious of our safety and we have lookouts so we can leave quickly if needed,” he added.
The wildfires, ignited by lightning fires in mid-January, have ravaged over 115,000 hectares including around 20,000 hectares of a World Heritage-listed area in northwest Tasmania.
For further information, please contact Defence Public Affairs on 021 487 980