Rotorua Weekender

NZ firefighte­r gets special Aussie honour

Kiwi thanked for help during bushfires

- Tamara Poi-ngawhika Te Rito journalism cadet

Alocal firefighte­r who worked 16-hour days battling the Australian bush fires and slept in a tent, has been given a “rare and special honour” by the Australian government.

Phil Muldoon, chief rural fire officer for Lake kāreka was one of 53 firefighte­rs honoured and was awarded the Australia National Emergency Medal for helping battle the Australian bushfires in the summer of 2019/20.

He said it was very humbling as he did not do the job for the accolades.

“It’s not what we do it for but it is nice to be recognised, especially from the Australian government,” Phil said.

Muldoon said fighting the bushfires was his 16th deployment. The award is the first time he had been recognised in such a way.

He had two weeks to prepare when he was chosen after Australia put out the call for help. As the role is voluntary, firefighte­rs opt-in and are selected based on their skill set.

“We went to help their firefighte­rs in Australia who had a tough season. We’re fresh feet on the ground and give them a break.”

The New Zealand contingent brought the Kiwi “can-do attitude” and was well trained. This put them in good stead to sustain 16-hour days for their two-week deployment.

He described his time in Australia as “very physically demanding work”. He said they slept in a tent in “very, very tough conditions”.

One notable memory of his time in Australia was when his team were allocated to a fire and had to save a house in the middle of the bush.

“Locals are given the option to fight or flee. People had left this house and gone somewhere safe, then we came in and were tasked with defending this house.”

Muldoon said the fire front had gone through and burned within 2 metres of the property. He said the team prevented it from burning and revisited the site numerous times over the days to stop it from reigniting.

“To see the end result and know the house is still standing untouched, is the best thing.

“We never ever knew whose house it was but that’s the satisfacti­on of a job well done,” he said.

Muldoon has been a firefighte­r for about 25 years and is keen to see more young people join the career. He said applicants ‘‘certainly need to be fit”. “If young people are keen on joining, go for it. It’s an awesome experience. You work with crews and are part of a team,” he said.

“I get satisfacti­on from seeing young people join our ranks. It opens another door to a possible career and life. The enjoyment and camaraderi­e is brilliant.” Muldoon gets a “kick” out of helping the community. “Our number one priority is to protect and serve our community and this extends into deployment­s both nationally and internatio­nally.” FENZ national commander, Russell Wood said this acknowledg­ement had never been awarded to anyone from the organisati­on before. “This is a rare and special honour that the Australian government has extended to us,” Wood said. New Zealand and Australia shared a special closeness and would “do everything we can do” to support each other through extreme adversity.

“The bushfires in Australia in 2019/20 were catastroph­ic and we were glad we could be there to help them.

“I am immensely proud of our people, who responded to the call so selflessly and put their time and energy into fighting one of the biggest wildfire disasters of our time.

‘‘It was a dangerous environmen­t for everyone to be in, and they showed true Kiwi spirit in their sustained efforts under challengin­g conditions.

“As a nation, we are very proud of our fine firefighte­rs.”

Among the 53 firefighte­rs honoured, 38 are from FENZ, two are from the NZ Army, eight from NZ Air Force, two from the Department of Conservati­on and three from forestry company partners.

 ?? Photo / Supplied ?? Phil Muldoon on the fire ground in Jinden Australia.
Photo / Supplied Phil Muldoon on the fire ground in Jinden Australia.
 ?? ?? Phil Muldoon being presented his medal by the Australian high commission­er Harinder Sidhu.
Phil Muldoon being presented his medal by the Australian high commission­er Harinder Sidhu.

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