Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall, left, NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Assistant Commissioner Rebel Talbot, Armidale Regional Council Administrator Ian Tiley and New England Zone RFS Superintendent Steve Mepham at the opening today.
Tuesday, 19 July 2016
THE once primitive aerial firefighting facilities for the region have now been replaced with a modern purpose-built airbase to enhance firefighting activities throughout the New England.
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall today officially opened the new $800,000 state-of-the-art NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) New England Aviation Airbase, located at the Armidale Regional Airport, which he said would transform aerial firefighting operations across the Northern Tablelands and New England regions.
“Firefighters and pilots have been making do with some very primitive facilities, running aerial firefighting efforts from shipping containers and portaloos at the airport.
“Conditions during peak season are quite hot and incredibly busy and there’s been no place for the pilots or volunteers to rest and if they do get flame retardant on them there has been no showers or a place to change their protective gear.
“That’s why this project has been such a priority – to be able to offer our volunteers these basic comforts when they do get a break and to provide the best technical support for aerial firefighting operations in our region.”
Mr Marshall said he was delighted that these ‘basic’ conditions were now in the past.
“The new airbase has a fully equipped command centre were all aerial operations will be co-ordinated, a tanker bay, storage rooms, showers, toilets, workshop and a crew room where volunteers and pilots can rest during a busy fire season,” he said.
“It’s a vast improvement on what was here previously and an investment worthy of the professionalism and efforts of the RFS volunteers and the pilots who do a tremendous job on the ground.”
During the local fire season’s peak, between October to December, fire crews can battle around 460 fires in the region, with up to 35 fire fighters at the airbase base at any time.
Two seasons ago, aerial operations from the airport alone cost $4 million, with close to 4,000 operation hours clocked up by the airbase.
“The terrain of our region makes aerial water bombing a necessary tool for the RFS while it also helps take the heat out of the flames for the ground crews,” Mr Marshall said.
Mr Marshall said the Airbase opening was a first step towards plans to relocate the New England RFS Zone headquarters from Mann Street to the airport.
“This is an important project that I’ll continue to work closely with the RFS and the government to make a reality,” he said.