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Firefighters recognised for courageous action at Coonabarabran fire

Published: 25th February 2013

Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) Commissioner Greg Mullins has awarded Unit Commendations for Courageous Action to the three crews of firefighters who helped save the Siding Springs Observatory at Coonabarabran during the January bushfires.

A number of firefighters from the crews were presented with the special awards at ceremony at Coonabarabran Fire Station on Saturday, 23 February.

Firefighters from Coonabarabran, Dubbo, Gunnedah and Narrabri, crewed three tankers that made up a Strike Team, formed on 13 January, to help tackle a firestorm that raged through the Warrumbungles National Park.

When the world-renowned observatory came under extreme threat, the Strike Team made the 30km journey to help save it. It took them several hours to reach the observatory as the conditions were so bad. They faced fallen powerlines, strong, gusting winds, falling trees, thick smoke, embers and extreme heat.

When the Strike Team arrived, the site was surrounded by fire and many of the buildings were already alight. The firefighters immediately got to work trying to save what they could – the telescope buildings, the information centre, the administration centre and the fire station.

Commissioner Mullins said the retained firefighters demonstrated bravery and resilience throughout the operation.

“The spot fires and ember attacks were relentless throughout the night,” Commissioner Mullins said.

“Managers of the observatory watched in awe and admiration from Canberra by video link as these firefighters fought to save several key buildings. They faced extreme danger at considerable personal risk.

“I congratulate them for their commitment and professionalism and their stoic determination to save the Siding Springs Observatory, which would certainly have suffered irreparable damage and incurred a disastrous financial loss without their efforts.

“These firefighters are the epitome of what people expect of a fire officer. They are a credit to themselves, the organisation and the community.”

In the days after 13 January, the Strike Team, bolstered with extra fire fighting resources from the region, helped protect properties under threat in Bugaldie and the Warrumbungles. Crews also undertook fire protection for the bulldozers that were restoring access tracks for energy companies and conducted back burning operations.

Crews who receive commendations are:

Coonabarabran Fire Station

  • Captain Phillip Mangan
  • Retained Firefighter Randall Michael
  • Retained Firefighter David Jackson
  • Retained Firefighter Terrence Hadfield
  • Retained Firefighter Jesse Smith

Dubbo and Delroy Fire Stations composite crew

  • Retained Firefighter Paul Schroder (Dubbo)
  • Retained Firefighter Andrew Steele (Delroy)
  • Retained Firefighter John Cleary (Delroy)
  • Retained Firefighter Cammeron Harris (Delroy)

Gunnedah and Narrabri Fire Stations composite crew

  • Deputy Captain Glenn Swift (Gunnedah)
  • Retained Firefighter David Welch (Gunnedah)
  • Retained Firefighter Daniel Haverhoek (Narrabri)
  • Retained Firefighter Cameron Baguley (Narrabri)