News Item

Mackay Aviation Rescue Fire Fighter is Airservices Australia’s ninth Australian Fire Service Medal recipient

29 Jan 2019

One of our longest serving Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS) staff member recently celebrated his 49th working anniversary with the awarding of the Australian Fire Service Medal on Australia Day.

Nigel Burnell is one of nine known ARFFS members to receive this medal—awarded for his commitment to the service and dedication to training ARFFS staff.

Nigel’s connection to ARFFS however, commenced well before he came to work for us.

“I was an orphan boy at Oxley’s Blackheath Boys Home in Brisbane at the time of the Abel Tasman accident [1] and remember sitting on the floor of the dining room along with 100 boys aged from two to 15 years watching a news report that would have been a day old film considering those times,” said Nigel.

“Within six months, I was selected to go and live with the Burnells who owned and worked a sugar cane farm North of Sarina and had lost a child in the accident.”

“This arrangement was organised through the State Welfare Department as they were known at that time. I was always grateful to the Burnells—I was always treated as a son and had a full life with the family.”

“About 10 years after my adoption, I was fortunate to pick up a page from a newspaper advertising for an airport fireman. I applied for the position and was accepted as a local recruit. The rest as they say, is history,” Nigel added.

And with 49 years’ service, that history has been diverse.

Launceston Operations Manager David Groer ARFFS said: “During Nigel’s time with ARFFS, he has served at various locations including Brisbane, Gold Coast, Rockhampton, Mt Isa, Proserpine, the Training College (Melbourne), Cairns and his current station of ARFFS Mackay.”

“Nigel has been a Training Officer since 1979 and has been committed to the development of firefighters through training and mentorship for the past 39 years. During this time, he delivered both core firefighting skills training and specialist aviation firefighting training courses, which includes the development of staff undertaking Certificate III through to Diploma training, both theory and practical.”

“Through this, Nigel has had a positive impact of a large proportion of current ARFFS staff in their development,” added David.

[1] The Abel Tasman Incident occurred on the 10th June 1960. A Fokker Friendship operated by Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) was on approach at night to land at Mackay when it crashed into the sea. All 29 people on board were killed. This incident remains as Australia’s worst civil air accident and was the instigator to the development of the ‘Black Box’.