During a recent visit to the Shoalhaven and South Coast regions of New South Wales, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d) Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, recognised the support provided by ADF personnel to emergency services in response to Australia’s bushfire crisis.
After spending the day with residents of Nowra and Lake Conjola, the Governor-General and Mrs Hurley visited HMAS Albatross and personally thanked personnel involved in the Australian Defence Force’s support to emergency services, including the Fleet Air Arm, HMAS Albatross, and the Australian Army’s 7th Brigade, the Royal Australian Regiment, and the 5th Combat Engineer Regiment.
“On behalf of all Australians, I would like to thank all of the ADF personnel involved in the bushfire response,” the Governor-General said.
“Linda and I have been visiting towns left reeling by fires since early October.
“Wherever we have gone several things stand out: the very real and understandable pain and anxiety of individuals impacted, their willingness to think of others even in the most dire of times and, of course, the incredible commitment and performance of all those involved in the response.
“The ADF has and continues to play a critical role - all Australians are grateful.”
Helicopters from three squadrons from the Fleet Air Arm are being used in support of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA), and the ACT RFS: the MH-60R Seahawk from 816 Squadron, MRH-90 Taipan from 808 Squadron and EC-135 from 723 Squadron. They have been providing assistance since mid-November 2019.
During the visit, the Governor-General also met members of 3 Squadron from the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who are contributing to the response to the bushfire crisis. He personally thanked them for their support.
Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Don Dezentje said the commitment and desire to assist communities by Defence and contracted personnel has been truly outstanding.
“While the professionalism, resilience and courage of our people helping our fellow Australians highlights the extraordinary men and women we have in Defence, the efforts of firefighters and emergency services personnel has been an inspiration,” Commodore Don Dezentje said.
Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20 has provided some unique opportunities for ADF members to work with a range of government agencies.
For example, the Fleet Air Arm has, for the first time, teamed up with RFS Aviation Rescue Aircrewmen, flying in Navy aircraft to evacuate people threatened or impacted by fire. They also conducted welfare checks on people isolated by fire, and provided capabilities that the RFS has not previously been able to utilise, such as night time fire mapping.
The Commanding Officer of 808 Squadron, Commander Paul Hannigan, said it was the first time his people had flown with RFS aircrew.
“They (the RFS Aircrewmen) are an impressive and professional group of people,” Commander Hannigan said.
“Many come from all sorts of day jobs but are trained to be hoisted out of aircraft as wiremen - it’s a relationship that has worked particularly well,” Commander Hannigan said.
The RFS has reported that since November the Fleet Air Arm had taken part in 63 search and rescue shifts, been tasked 83 times and effected 23 rescues.
Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20 imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: