Secretary Salazar Joins Australia’s Prime Minister And Secretary of Agriculture in Lauding Wildland Firefighters



03/26/2009


Contact: Frank Quimby
(202) 208-7291


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to thank U.S. wildland firefighters for their assistance during recent devastating fires in the State of Victoria, Australia.

“Wildland firefighting is a hazardous profession, and we are truly grateful to those who risk their lives to protect us, our environment and our communities,” Salazar told officials, dignitaries and guests at a wildland firefighter appreciation ceremony at the Department of Agriculture.  “Thank you to all of our dedicated wildland firefighters in the United States and Australia and thank you, Prime Minister Rudd, for joining us to honor them today.”

The Secretary expressed his deepest condolences to the Prime Minister for the loss of life caused by the recent Australian wildfires.  “I was deeply saddened to learn of the devastating ‘Black Saturday’  bushfires in Victoria last month that destroyed the homes and took the lives of so many,” Salazar said. Two hundred and ten people lost their lives in the tragic bushfires that destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Seventy-three U.S. firefighting specialists were deployed in February to join the thousands of  Australian firefighters who battled the Victorian Bushfires.  The U.S. personnel included 35 from Interior and 38 from the U.S. Forest Service. Sixty returned to the United States on March 15, and one 13 member team will return April 7.  Four of those who participated in the deployment were present at the ceremony, including Eric Bush and Tony Johnson, who served on Hotshot crews; Alan Goodwin, who served as the Australian fire liaison in the United States; and Bodie Shaw, who served as the U.S. fire liaison in Australia.

Prime Minister Rudd presented the firefighters with a plaque in appreciation of their assistance. The firefighters, who have a tradition of wearing purple ribbons in memory of the firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty, presented the Prime Minister purple ribbon lapel pin in honor of David Balfour, an Australian firefighter who died fighting the fires, and the 209 civilians who lost their lives.

Since signing a 2001 agreement, Australia has provided assistance to the United States in 2002, 2003 and 2006 while the United States has provided assistance in 2003, 2007 and 2009.  Similar command structures, training and physical requirements allow firefighters from one country to easily blend into the organization of the other.  The recipient of assistance is responsible for all expenses.