Christchurch Man Battling Tasmanian Bushfires Happy to Pay it Back

22 February 2019

For New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) firefighter Lance Corporal James Nunan helping fight the multiple bushfires burning across Tasmania is a way of giving back.

Lance Corporal Nunan, who is based at Burnham Military Camp, is one of five NZDF firefighters in Tasmania battling the fires. They are part of a Fire and Emergency New Zealand team assisting about 500 firefighters from Tasmania Fire Service and other parts of Australia.

“The Australians were among those who came to our aid following the devastating earthquake in Christchurch in 2011 and the 2016 earthquake in Kaikoura,” Lance Corporal Nunan said.

“We always help each other out, as good neighbours do. It’s nice to help other people and the community.”

The NZDF firefighters left for Tasmania on 7 February and have been working in a number of fire-affected areas near Geeveston, a town 62 kilometres southwest of Hobart.

Lance Corporal Nunan said a typical workday lasted about 12 hours, starting at 7am. After receiving their tasks for the day, the NZDF firefighters are flown to the Hartz Mountains, about 55 kilometres southwest of Hobart.

“We’ve worked at several locations since we arrived. Last week, we were assigned to attack hotspots at a eucalyptus plantation and this week we are at the Hartz Mountains National Park. Many trees have been burnt and there are trunks that are still smouldering,” he said.

“The Tasmanian fire crews specialise in remote-area firefighting – I’ve learnt a lot working with them.”

The NZDF also deployed 220 personnel recently to fight bushfires in Nelson, and others to fight fires in Marlborough and Canterbury.

The deployment to Tasmania is Lance Corporal Nunan’s first overseas operation, but he has been involved in large-scale local firefighting operations, such as the Port Hills fires in 2017.

“We helped out for more than two weeks, starting at 5am and finishing about 9pm on most days. It was hard and fairly dangerous, especially in the initial phase,” he said.

Lance Corporal Nunan enlisted in the New Zealand Army in 2013, a few months after graduating from Christchurch’s Shirley Boys’ High School.

“I was quite familiar with Army life because of our proximity to Burnham Camp. I also enjoy being outdoors and running in the forests, which was why I chose the Army.”

After completing basic training, he took a gap year to travel to Europe and Asia with a high school friend and then spent a few months doing drainlaying and construction work as Christchurch rebuilt after the earthquake.

When he re-enlisted in 2014 his mind was set on becoming a firefighter.

An added string to his bow is that he has a diploma in paramedic science from Auckland University and is a volunteer ambulance officer for St John.

“I’ve been in a number of situations where people have been seriously injured or ill and survived because we were able to treat them and get them to a hospital quickly,” he said.

“It’s a team effort and everyone has a role to play, just like in firefighting.”

This page was last reviewed on 22 February 2019.