New Zealand — Keri Tuna must be a beggar for punishment.
The Southland man, who works for DoC and is a rural firefighter, has been on four deployments to Australia over the years, fighting massive bushfires and often using hand tools to dig out firebreaks in sweltering conditions for hours at a time.
His work as a rural firefighter, both in Southland and in Australia in the past 12 months, has seen him named Southern rural firefighter of the year on Friday.
He directed from the air about seven helicopter pilots using monsoon buckets in strong winds as they fought a big pine plantation fire near Dipton in November; and he led an Otago crew which was one of many fighting a large bush fire in Victoria in the new year.
The Dipton job was “more about keeping your lunch down because of the wind”, and the work in Australia was “pretty intense” with the scale of the fires huge and the conditions much warmer than in New Zealand.
They used hand tools to build fire breaks, working 12 hours days with three five-day stints while living in a tent city.
“Most days you are pretty tired. You just want to have tea, grab a shower and head off to your pit.”
The married father of three said he enjoyed the camaraderie of firefighting and working with other firefighters around New Zealand and Australia.
Tuna’s work as a rural firefighter centred on fighting fires but he believed the volunteer rural firefighters in Southland who fought fires and also attended car crashes and medical callouts and assisted St John were the real heroes.
Southern Rural Fire community engagement officer Sally Chesterfield said it was appropriate the awards celebrations were held during national volunteer week, when employees were encouraged to recognise the contribution volunteers made to their businesses.
About 260 Southern rural firefighters attend medical calls, motor vehicle accidents and vegetation fires across Southland when emergencies occur.
When the rural firefighters were called out to incidents it impacted on their employers and families who deserved acknowledgement, she said.
Rural fire teams often trained within their communities or organisations and only met during wildfire events.
OTHER AWARD WINNERS
First responder award – Blackmount
Leadership winner: Fiona Gray, Drummond
Long service volunteer rural fire force good conduct medals: