Firefighters recognised for courageous action

FOUR Dubbo retained firefighters were awarded unit commendations for courageous action from Fire & Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins who helped save the Siding Springs Observatory at Coonabarabran during the January bushfires.

Dubbo retained firefighters John Cleary (Delroy) and Paul Schroder (Dubbo) met with the Premier, Barry O'Farrell and the commissioner. Unable to attend the presentation due to work and family commitments were Andrew Steele (Delroy) and Cameron Harris (Delroy).

The firefighters joined crews from Coonabarabran, Gunnedah and Narrabri and were presented with the special awards at ceremony at Coonabarabran Fire Station on Saturday.

The firefighters 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.

Area Commander Regional West, Chief Superintendent Neil Harris said the presentation of a unit citation was a rare event - the last was presented in 2004.

He said the Dubbo firefighters and their colleagues from the other towns had performed above and beyond the norm and described their work in saving important infrastructure as incredible.

He said the task force was tasked to fight the fire when the world-renowned Siding Spring observatory came under extreme threat.

The strike team took about four hours to make the 30km journey to help save it, chief superintendent Harris said.

"It took them 30 minutes to travel the first 10 kilometres and then three hours the remaining distance," he said.

He said 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.

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