Southland crew to help fight bushfires

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Rural Southland firefighters Nigel Milne, Graeme Appleby and Ken Keenan have everything ready to travel to Australia to help fight the bush fires. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO

FOUR Southland firefighters are ready for the “biggest challenge” of their careers.

Volunteers Ken Keenan, Graeme Appleby, Brodie Butcher and Nigel Milne were among 21 firefighters being deployed yesterday by Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) to assist with Australia’s devastating bushfires.

Hedgehope rural fire controller Mr Keenan said this would be the second time his team had travelled overseas to help, but this time was different.

“We were in Australia in November [last year], but this will be the most complex operation we will be part of. [The fire is] merging into the south as well, so it’s getting larger and causing more problems.”

The team had known since Christmas a call-up was coming. It was confirmed on Tuesday.

Mr Keenan said his family was initially apprehensive.

“When I told them I might be going back, they were a bit nervous. They asked me why… but they are pretty good now. They know we are trained and we will keep an eye on each other; we work as a team. It’s important to help the neighbours out.”

Drummond Fire Brigade volunteer Mr Appleby said they were following news about the fire through the media, but when they arrived in New South Wales they would have a “real notion” of what was happening.

He said it would be a good experience for the team.

“It will be good to have the knowledge and experience to help if something like that happened here. We don’t have this kind of fire over here.”

Mr Milne said they were well prepared, so did not feel afraid.

“No, we don’t actually fear [the fire]. We’ve had a lot of training and we know what we are doing.”

The crew said they felt really proud to be able to represent the country on this mission.

“It’s a privilege to be chosen,” Mr Milne said.

FENZ had sent 179 personnel to help Australian firefighters since the end of October.

The Southland crew will be deployed for two weeks and hoped to be able “to help, save lives and make Southland and New Zealand proud”.

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