Lee Blanchard, Principal Systems Engineer at Boeing has an affinity for nature and wildlife – spending his spare time rescuing and rehabilitating native animals and volunteering with the Country Fire Service (CFS).

When the devastating bushfires spread to Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills just before Christmas, Blanchard joined his fellow CFS Brigade volunteers at the front line, both as part of the initial emergency response and planned strike teams, to help contain and make the fire ground safe. He then spent several days on Kangaroo Island helping to contain the fire which devastated around 216,000ha of land.

“At both fires, I was directly involved with trying to prevent the active fire front from spreading; protecting property including houses, wineries, farms; and mopping up activities – which are far less newsworthy although just as critical as a fire can burn for weeks in tree stumps and roots only to flare up again,” said Blanchard.

“After the fires swept through, we spent time with home and land owners doing whatever we could to minimise any further impacts.

“It was great to be in a position where I was able to help and, as a lover of wildlife, it was particularly rewarding when my crew rescued a koala from the Cudlee Creek fire ground.”

Similarly, when the fires spread to the Australian Capital Territory, James Heron took time out to battle fires in the Namadgi National Park.

A former member of the Royal Australian Navy, ACT Rural Fire Service volunteer and Boeing Network Operations Support Contract Team Leader, Heron has a strong sense of duty to his nation, his team and his community.

“My team was needed on site to assist our ADF colleagues to keep defence communication assets operational following multiple evacuations of HMAS Harman, loss of power and airport closures,” said Heron.

“It was important for me to be there to fulfil my operational duties and support my team, many of whom were impacted directly by the fires and indirectly by the poor air quality.

“Equally, as a volunteer firefighter, I was compelled to protect families, friends, homes and assets – and I am thankful that I was able to do that.”

Reflecting on the arduous and difficult fire season, Blanchard and Heron were quick to acknowledge the efforts of front line and support organisations, both volunteer and paid, across Australia.

“I’ve seen some amazing Aussie mateship during my time on the fires, with brigades and units travelling far and wide to help out their neighbours,” said Blanchard.

“Boeing has also been extremely supportive and flexible, both at local management level and with corporate policies. I am allowed civil emergency services leave, given the flexibility to work from home on days of high fire danger, and trusted to work my hours around any call-outs that might occur.”