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Fighting fires and hunger - NZDF wraps up Port Hills support

On Wednesday 14 February, Burnham Military Camp received a call to assist Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) with a blaze that was quickly spreading across Christchurch’s Port Hills.

23 February, 2024

Nine days on and the state of emergency has been lifted, bringing an end to the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) support.

Emergency Responder Corporal Molly van der Hoek has close to a decade’s experience with 3 Field and Emergency Response Squadron based in Burnham, and said it’s special when they’re able to rally and help the people of the region.

“It was great to be able to reassure the community that we were there for them.”

In total, 12 Emergency Responders from Burnham were deployed to the Port Hills as well as four members of the Squadron’s North Island contingent.

Working closely with both FENZ and NZ Police, they were given a section of Summit Road to assess and manage, as well as providing specialist skill sets to the broader response.

It was also the first time the Squadron were able to test out two new Rural Fire Appliances on a large-scale scrub fire.

“They have great 4WD capability, and being a modern vehicle they have all the safety measures to cater to our requirements on the ground, fighting the fire,” Corporal van der Hoek said. 

Two people with smiles and arms around each other stand in front of a NZDF firetruck, with another person in the drivers seat.

Personnel from 3 Field and Emergency Response Squadron helping manage the Port Hills fires

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The New Zealand Defence Force caterers met with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and chatted about their roles in the Port Hills fires response

Army personnel working in a temporary kitchen in the field

NZDF personnel preparing a tasty dinner for front-line crews

As well as battling the fire, NZDF personnel also supported affected members of the public.

Burnham Military Camp’s Fire Master, Staff Sergeant Josh Bowick, said he was proud of how the team got stuck in.

“The training they receive as soldiers means they are fit and ready to endure long fire fights on the ground,” he said. 

“Overall, the team remained flexible and agile, working long hours in challenging conditions to achieve a great outcome.”

As well as fighting the flames, NZDF support also involved sustaining their fellow emergency responders.

Four caterers from the Catering and Support Company joined the response teams on the ground and provided more than 750 meals for crews, feeding approximately 150 people each day.

The caterers woke up at 4am each day to prepare a hearty breakfast for the responders, including eggs, sausages, beans and cereal. Frontline crews were then provided with pre-made bagged lunches to eat on-the-go as the catering team got stuck in to preparing dinner.

Corporal Bryan Procter said meals were decided collectively by the group, with the Mexican night proving a crowd favourite. 

This was a familiar environment for Corporal Procter who had previously supported the catering effort for the 2017 Port Hills fires.

“It was great to see lots of happy faces first thing in the morning and last thing at night,” he said.

“This week also provided us with a good bit of training, making sure we were familiar with the kit.

“Catering is so rewarding because people really appreciate what you are doing.”