Our Northern Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team has celebrated its 20th Anniversary.

A function held at Regional Headquarters in Te Hiku on 9 November also welcomed new members to the team, included the presentation of figurines to those who have served ten years and more, and farewelled members who had recently resigned.

USAR is an operational element of Fire and Emergency that provides a heavy urban search and rescue capability, both domestically and for international operations. We have three teams - Central – Southern, and Northern.

Colin Wright, Senior Station Officer at Papatoetoe Fire Station, and Acting Operations Manager, Northern USAR, said the event was a great way to honour those who have dedicated so much time and service to urban search and rescue, and to acknowledge the huge amount of work that went on in the background that resulted in the establishment of USAR in New Zealand.

‘Our USAR capability was initiated in the mid-90’s by Bernie Rush and Des Bull working with the Los Angeles City Fire Department’s Federal Emergency Management Agency Training team. This led to the instigation of the first of our teams, based at Palmerston North, and run by SSO Graeme Mills and SSO Bryce Coneybeer.

‘The first course was run by COSAR which is the training arm of the LA City Fire Department. This training raised the team to a Medium skill set. The second Course was also run by COSAR and raised the team to a Heavy skill set.

‘Since our International Classification in 2015, when we stand up for international deployment, we are now known as NZL 1.’

Colin said the exceptional standard of training that has been delivered over the years was put to the absolute test with New Zealand’s worst natural disaster, the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake.

‘This devastating event demonstrated the need for such teams, and especially the need for our highly specialised urban search and rescue training and skills.’

Aaron Waterreus, Specialist Response Manager, and Team leader of USAR Northern said the figurines were relatively new to USAR.

‘In line with our Fire and Emergency value of Kia Tika – we do the right thing – and acknowledging those who live by the values of Whanaungatanga – we are better together and Manaakitanga – we serve and support, we have started a tradition of presenting the figurines to members who have served 10 years and more.

‘This figurine is hand cast tin alloy with a pewter finish and is hand made by retired firefighter Graeme Monk. His mission in casting these was to create a lasting heirloom.’

Aaron said acknowledgement must also go to the huge commitment from USAR’s supporting teams, Canine, Paramedics, Engineers, and Doctors.

‘All bring their specialist knowledge, and our level of capability would be diminished without them. We also acknowledged our skilled, dedicated and committed instructor group.’

NZ USAR includes approximately 210 people from Fire and Emergency who make up most of the Technicians, Logistics staff and the command/management element, and they are complemented with Doctors, Paramedics, Engineers and Canine handlers. All Fire and Emergency personnel can apply for USAR when vacancies arise - career, volunteer and those with specialist skills who can support the deployable capabilities that USAR has.

National Communications Centre Manager Gavin Travers receives his figurine with Aaron Waterreus to his left.

USAR 20th anniversary celebration with Colin Wright standing against the wall.


Last modified: