A New Zealand firefighter has been awarded one of Australia’s special service awards for his efforts in fighting bushfires during the summer of 2019 and 2020.

Phil Muldoon, Lake Ōkāreka’s chief rural fire officer, was one of 53 firefighters awarded the Australia National Emergency Medal during a recent awards ceremony.

Muldoon, who worked 16-hour days fighting fires, said the honour was very humbling.

“It’s not what we do it for but it is nice to be recognised, especially from the Australian Government,” Muldoon told NZ Herald.

He was among a 208-strong contingent of New Zealanders sent to help their Aussie neighbours, including personnel from Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), the Department of Conservation, forestry company partners, and the New Zealand Defence Force.

The majority of those who took part received the award during recent official ceremonies hosted in New Zealand by Australian High Commissioner HE Harinder Sidhu.

Muldoon received his award along with 38 firefighters from FENZ, two members of the NZ Army, eight NZ Air Force members, two from the Department of Conservation, and three from forestry company partners.

Having been a firefighter for 25 years, Muldoon said fighting the bushfires was his 16th deployment and that firefighters were chosen to deploy based on their skillset.

“We went to help their firefighters in Australia who had a tough season. We’re fresh feet on the ground and give them a break,” Muldoon said, adding that the contingent brought New Zealand’s “can-do” attitude with them.

Earlier this month, nine firefighters from Northland received the award, including wildfire specialist Rory Renwick.

After spending 14 days fighting blazes in remote Australian bush, Renwick said the gratitude expressed through the medal was just “icing on the cake”.

“People stopped you on the street to shake your hand and say thank you. It’s humbling and pretty amazing,” he told NZ Herald.

Renwick explained that New Zealand crews were often working in remote areas and tackling large fires.

“We were trying to put out the edge of the fire to stop it spreading,” he said.

“We did anything from patrolling edges [and] dealing with small hotspots to working with aircraft and heavy machinery to slow the fire down and stop it.”

The award, which was approved by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011, is given to those who performed significant or sustained service during “nationally-significant emergencies”, according to the Governor-General’s website.

Muldoon, Renwick, and the many others recognised for their efforts during the bushfires will receive a medal with a clasp that reads, “BUSHFIRES 19-20”.

Russell Wood, the national commander of FENZ, said the award had never been given to any member of the organisation before.

“This is a rare and special honour that the Australian Government has extended to us,” he said.

“The bushfires in Australia in 2019/20 were catastrophic and we were glad we could be there to help them.

“I am immensely proud of our people, who responded to the call so selflessly and put their time and energy into fighting one of the biggest wildfire disasters of our time.

“It was a dangerous environment for everyone to be in, and they showed true Kiwi spirit in their sustained efforts under challenging conditions.

“As a nation, we are very proud of our fine firefighters.”

Image: Fire and Emergency NZ (Facebook)

This article first appeared on OverSixty.