Region's firefighters awarded for courageous action

Regional firefighters have been recognised for courageous action during the devastating Coonabarabran fires last month.

Three crews, including men from Gunnedah and Narrabri, were awarded unit commendations by Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) Commissioner Greg Mullins for courageous action in saving the Siding Springs Observatory at Coonabarabran during the January bushfires.

A number of the firefighters were presented with the special awards at a ceremony in the Coonabarabran Fire Station on Saturday.

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

The 13 men to receive commendations were Coonabarabran Fire Station Captain Phillip Mangan and retained firefighters Randall Michael, David Jackson, Terrence Hadfield and Jesse Smith from the Coonabarabran unit, retained firefighters Paul Schroder from Dubbo, and Andrew Steele, John Cleary and Cammeron Harris, all from the Delroy unit.

The composite Gunnedah/Narrabri crew of deputy captain Glenn Swift and retained firefighter David Welcha from Gunnedah, and Narrabri retained firefighters Daniel Haverhoek and Cameron Baguley, were also commended.

Commissioner Mullins said 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 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 that fire fight, 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.

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