Southland heroes honoured

    Southland District Mayor Gary Tong (third from left) presented Southland wildland firefighters (from left) Graham Appleby (Drummond), Hamish Angus (Te Anau), Allan Jones (Hedgehope), Timo Bierlin (Invercargill), Kenneth Keenan, Nigel Milne and Brodie Butcher (all of Hedgehope), their citations and badges issued by New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian in recognition of fighting the NSW bushfires.

    SEVEN Southland men answered the call to take on one of Australia’s biggest battles the New South Wales (NSW) bushfires, dubbed Black Summer, which raged throughout the state in 2019 and 2020.

    This week, those seven men were acknowledged with citations from New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian for their contribution in fighting the fires which took the lives of 26 people, destroyed 2448 homes, ravaged 5.5 million hectares and saw 1 billion animals perish.

    At the somewhat low-key ceremony at the Southland District Council building in Invercargill on Tuesday, Southland District Mayor Gary Tong presented each of the unsung heroes with their framed citation and a badge to be worn with their uniform.

    He also presented flowers to the partners and wives of the men, thanking them for the contribution they had made.

    Principal fire officer Timo Bierlin, who fought in the NSW fires, addressed the men at the presentation.

    “Every single day we gave our best to protect and preserve lives, properties and wildlife and I dare say today, we, every single one of us, made a difference.”

    He said when Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) answered the call to help, it showed the spirit of Anzac was still alive.

    “With the Anzac spirit in mind and a attitude, we left our families and Southland behind to face the red demon.”

    The citation recognised the outstanding contribution in emergency service the seven firefighters had given.

    It symbolised mateship, teamwork, volunteering and helping when times were tough, Mr Bierlin said.

    “It’s a meaningful commemoration of a bushfire season Australia won’t forget.”

    Mr Bierlin also recognised the support of both Fenz staff and the families of the men.

    “It is not easy sharing your partner with the fire.”

    Mr Tong told the men the community was proud of what they had done.

    “Just be so proud of what you’ve done for Southland.”

    After the ceremony, Mr Bierlin said it was hard to put into words what the acknowledgement meant, often wildfire firefighters flew to other countries to assist but received no recognition afterwards.

    While they were in Australia the men also had a lot to do with many victims of the fire.

    “Half an hour earlier you’re having conversations with people preparing them for that fire.

    “Half an hour later everything they owned was gone.”

    In all, the southern district provided personnel for six deployments from November 2019 to February 2020.