NZDF firefighters in Tasmania – (from left to right) Lance Corporal Thomas Grant, Leading Aircraftman Jonathan McGovern, Lance Corporal Lance Harris, Warrant Officer Class 1 Brent Ruruku and Corporal Joshua Nahi – pose for a group photo after finishing for the day fighting the wildfires at Arthur River in northwest Tasmania.
16 February 2016
Although he has been a firefighter for 26 years now, Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) Brent Ruruku said he found the raging Tasmanian bush fires a bit of a challenge.
WO1 Ruruku is leading a five-man New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) contingent deployed in late January, to help fight the wildfires at Arthur River in northwest Tasmania.
“To prevent the fires from spreading, we have to dig out all the hot embers that lie underneath about a metre deep of peat. It’s like working in a chimney. It’s very hot and you are covered in soot and ash the whole day,” said WO1 Ruruku,
To get to their work area, the NZDF firefighters have to drive over 50 kilometres of dirt road and carry all their equipment, food packs and water supplies over two kilometres 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. We each drink up to five litres of water each day to keep ourselves hydrated,” said the firefighter from Levin.
“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.
Up at six o’clock every morning, the NZDF firefighters do not get back to their cabins before seven o’clock in the evening. “Our five kids are already in bed by the time I call my partner around 9:30pm,” WO1 Ruruku said.
Although battling the blazes is hard work, WO1 Ruruku said the NZDF firefighters were keen to help. Working with the Australians has also 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 skills sets are aligned with international standards,” he said.
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