Dogs join NZ bushfire team

Dogs join NZ bushfire team

12 February 2009

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New Zealand/Australia — New Zealand’s assistance to Australia in the wake of the country’s most devastating bushfires has been boosted by four victim recovery dogs.

The dogs and their handlers will fly to Melbourne tomorrow with a team of 52 rural firefighters on a Defence Force Boeing 757 from Auckland.

The german shepherds are trained to locate victims above and below ground and amongst wreckage.

Police said their role was particularly suited to situations where significant loss of life might have occurred over a wide area.

The four teams were drawn from police dog sections in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Once on the ground the dogs would be deployed according to the operational requirements of Victoria police.

The firefighters and dogs will join six police disaster victim identification specialists who travelled to Victoria yesterday to assist local police following the fires which have claimed more than 180 lives.

The death toll was expected to rise significantly.

Prime Minister John Key volunteered the assistance of 100 firefighters to Australia this week.

Yesterday the Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria made a formal request to the National Rural Fire Authority for support from New Zealand.

New Zealand’s National Rural Fire Officer, Murray Dudfield, said the team of 52 fire fighters, crew leaders and incident management team members had been drawn from a number of organisations.

They include:
• Southern Rural Fire Authority (Invercargill) one crew of five;
• Dunedin City Council one crew of five;
• Waimea Rural Fire Authority (Nelson) one crew of five;
• Aupouri/Karikari Rural Fire Authority (Northland) one crew of five;
• Department of Conservation (Christchurch/Auckland/Southland/Rotorua/ Palmerston North/Taranaki/Nelson) three crews of five;
• New Zealand Defence Force one crew of five;
• Pumicelands Rural Fire Authority (Rotorua) one crew of five;
• West Coast Rural Fire Authority one crew of five.

There are a number of other support personnel and already one New Zealand liaison officer from the National Rural Fire Authority was in Melbourne along with a bushfire research scientist from Scion, a forest research institute in Christchurch.

Mr Dudfield said the fire fighters and managers had been chosen for their remote high country and forestry firefighting experience.

“They will be required to walk into the remote wildfires in forested lands which will involve dry firefighting with hand tools and machinery along with back burning tasks.

“These wildfires occurred as a result of last weekend’s devastating bushfires and some still remain uncontrolled.”

The deployment was from February 13 to approximately the end of February.

“A second contingent of a similar number from New Zealand will most likely be requested to replace this group at that time,” Mr Dudfield said.

After their arrival in Melbourne the firefighters would undergo orientation and familiarisation on Saturday, before going into action on Sunday.

Meanwhile efforts to raise money to help those affected by the fires is growing in New Zealand.

Today, together with several New Zealand businesses and in partnership with the New Zealand Red Cross, issued a challenge to all New Zealanders to help out.

All donations would be directed to New Zealand Red Cross for the official fund operated by the Victorian Government and supported by the Australian Red Cross.

So far more than $1 million has been raised to help the victims, after the appeal was kickstarted by the Government with a $500,000 contribution.

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