Some of the most heart-wrenching images of the Australian bushfires have been those of koalas – suffering burns or gulping water from the bottles of volunteers and firefighters.

On 23 December, when the fires threatened the local koala population in the Cudlee Creek area in the Adelaide Hills, Boeing environment health and safety specialist, Narelle Rawnsley received a call from a veterinary friend who was looking for assistance to set up a koala triage centre.

“Adelaide Koala Rescue (AKR) was on the scene quickly to establish the centre in the gym of a local primary school,” said Rawnsley.

 “Being a makeshift and temporary facility, there was a lot of set up work needed to cope with the influx of injured animals.

“They needed someone who could take on a coordination role, which was well suited to my background in incident command from my fire service days.”

At the outset, Rawnsley’s role was to quickly establish systems for managing volunteers, vets, vet staff, logistics, and the check-in and triage of koalas as they arrived.

“At the height of the crisis we had 140 koalas in our care. Many of them had suffered through heatwave conditions prior to the fire, so were in need of a lot of rest and attention.

“I assisted the AKR Directors to implement a coordination structure similar to the one I had used in emergency services and advised them on risk management and safety elements for the site as well.

“But, most rewarding and heartening, I have been able to see a large number of these beautiful animals released back into areas that have ample food and water sources,” said Rawnsley.

Rawnsley gave up her Christmas day with family, as well as most days during her two weeks leave, to volunteer at the centre which has since relocated to a permanent facility.