Bunnaloo firefighter’s commendation

Local firefighter Gerard James has been honoured with a Commissioner’s Certificate of Commendation for the role he played in the bush fire crisis of 2019/2020.

The Mid Murray Zone district assistant (pictured) was one of only 16 NSW Rural Fire Service firefighters across the state to receive the commendation on Tuesday.

The awards were announced at a ceremony in Sydney to mark St Florian’s Day — named after the Patron Saint of Firefighters and also known as International Firefighters Day.

As he was unable to attend, Mr James will instead be presented with his commendation at a ceremony in Albury later this year.

The award recognises ‘‘service or outstanding actions’’ in relation to fire service duties and is awarded to individuals or brigades ‘‘for service beyond the scope of responsibility normally expected’’.

Mr James is specifically recognised for his service at rural liaison officer on five occasions during the season, resulting in 35 days deployment in total in the areas of Glen Innes, Casino, Kempsey and Tumut.

‘‘It’s a funny thing to be honoured with all the people who suffered, but I am very appreciative for the award,’’ Mr James said.

During the 2019/2020 fire season Mr James was captain of the Bunnaloo RFS brigade.

And while away from home, he endured a number of very challenging tasks including the recovery of remains and providing mental health support to those affected by the blaze.

‘‘During Captain James’ first deployment to Glen Innes, he assisted police in a search for two missing persons in the Ewingar area,’’ his citation read.

‘‘Unfortunately, Robert Lindsey and Gwenda Hyde perished during the Long Gully Road fire.

‘‘Capt James willingly remained behind with police to assist with the recovery of the deceased remains.

‘‘During Capt James’ second deployment he identified several property owners who required additional support.

‘‘One was a male who made threats to self-harm, so Capt James maintained contact and sought mental heath support for this person.

‘‘Another was a heavily traumatised landowner who was struggling to protect her remaining pasture and livestock.

‘‘Along with the public liaison officer, Capt James met the hostile landowner, assisted in de-escalating their frustration and found a suitable solution.’’

Mr James’ citation also pays tribute to the way he handled working in isolated locations with limited communications, and with little to no support from other firefighters.

‘‘On one occasion, Capt James remained overnight defending homes with isolated owners in the Tooma Valley,’’ his citation read.

In his role as rural liaison officer, Mr James organised fodder and water for livestock and organised for injured livestock to be treated or destroyed, and provided a shoulder to landowners.

‘‘He has demonstrated outstanding firefighter and agricultural knowledge, adaptability, capability and outstanding work ethic to undertake some of the more unusual tasks,’’ the citation read.

‘‘While at times fatigued, both emotionally and physically, Capt James continued to provide a service of the highest calibre to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and fire-affected communities.’’

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