The Department of Conservation rejects claims that fire fighting training for its staff in Australia is a “junket” and involves skills not applicable in New Zealand.
Deputy Director General of Services, Kevin O’Connor says DOC is responsible for providing 24 hour fire cover for about a third of the country and, with 500 trained staff, maintains the largest rural fire fighting capability in New Zealand.
“DOC also provides fire support for neighbouring land owners across the country - in the past two years alone, DOC staff have fought more than 200 fires with more than half these fires threatening conservation land from nearby properties.”
Mr O’Connor says in addition DOC has also provided more than 60 fire fighters in three emergency deployments over the past two summers to support Australian fire fighters battling widespread bushfires in Tasmania and Victoria.
These deployments are undertaken as part of reciprocal emergency arrangements between New Zealand, Australian and North American fire fighting agencies.
“Like any responsible fire fighting organisation, DOC has a responsibility to train its staff so they can work safely in dangerous and highly unpredictable situations –where ever they need to operate.”
As part of that training, Kevin O’Connor says over the past two years DOC has sent fire teams to Australia to assist Australian state crews with off-season, controlled burn-offs.
“These exercises provide training in skills and fire conditions on a scale that is not available in New Zealand but ensures DOC has the skilled fire fighting force it requires.
The total cost of the trans-Tasman training and fire fighting over the past two years - including travel and staff time – has been fully covered by the Australian state agencies involved.
Far from being a “junket”, these training exercises are an important part of the skills DOC staff need when they are called on to fight fires both at home or abroad.”