Australia – New Zealand — The contribution of more than 400 New Zealand firefighters in helping battle bushfires across the Tasman over the past 14 years will be acknowledged tomorrow during a visit by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to an Auckland fire station.
Mr Abbott will express his appreciation to a group of rural firefighters during a stopover at Auckland City Station in Pitt Street, accompanied by Prime Minister John Key.
As a volunteer firefighter himself, Mr Abbott has a personal interest in the work of New Zealands rural fire forces, which respond to about 3,000 fires a year.
New Zealand Fire Service Chief Executive & National Commander Paul Baxter said 412 personnel had helped their Australian counterparts since 2001. Five of the eight deployments had been to Victoria, two to New South Wales and one to Tasmania.
New Zealand and Australian firefighters have also undertaken six joint deployments to the United States and Canada.
Mr Baxter, himself a member of the first deployment to Australia, said calls for volunteers were always over-subscribed, underlining the strong bond between Australian and New Zealand emergency services.
He said New Zealand crews, though comparatively small in number, often had specialist skills that were highly valued. These included remote-area teams able to operate unsupported for long periods of time, and tall-timber teams that were able to rapidly establish fire breaks.
In turn, such deployments provided invaluable experience for volunteers, he said.
“The scale of many Australian bushfires makes it vital to have every pair of skilled hands in the fray or at the ready. New Zealand is ready, willing and able to provide that help at 48 hours notice.”