Shane Fitzsimmons honoured after deadly NSW fires

 

Former Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has been named 2021 NSW Australian of the Year for leading NSW through the devastating Black Summer bushfires.

Resilience NSW chief Fitzsimmons was honoured with one of the state's most prestigious awards at a National Australia Day Council ceremony at Luna Park Sydney last night.

The 51 year-old was nominated for steering the state's response to the deadly 2019/2020 bushfire season, which claimed 5.4 million hectares, 2,439 homes, and the lives of 26 people in NSW, including RFS volunteers Andrew O'Dwyer, Geoffrey Keaton and Samuel McPaul.

Former fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Former fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

"Working long hours, he informed and calmed the public in daily press conferences, liaised with government leaders and provided comfort to colleagues and family members of firefighters who lost their lives in service to others," his NSW Australian of the Year nomination read.

Fitzsimmons stepped down after 35 years at the RFS and 12 years in the top job to lead disaster recovery agency Resilience NSW earlier this year.

He told The Daily Telegraph winning Australia of the Year was "very humbling" and paid tribute to the "remarkable" team of Rural Fire Service volunteers who fought hard in the Black Summer.

"As you would expect, it's quite overwhelming, I'm truly honoured and genuinely humbled.. it's pretty remarkable to be recognised for being part of an extraordinary team with what we went through last fire season," he said.

"In so many ways, it's a bittersweet recognition for what was an extraordinary team effort in a fire season which took far too many lives, but the awards tonight remind me how fortunate I was and am now to be part of an organisation making a difference in local communities."

Other recipients at the awards ceremony included Invictus Games gold medal winner, pilot and upper limb amputee Nathan Parker, who won NSW Young Australian of the Year and migrant advocate Rosemary Kariuki, who won 2021 NSW Local Hero for creating opportunities for African migrants and refugees to reduce isolation and start their own businesses.

NSW Young Australian of the Year Nathan Parker. Picture: Joel Carrett
NSW Young Australian of the Year Nathan Parker. Picture: Joel Carrett

Indigenous elder and member of the Stolen Generation Isobel Reid won NSW Senior Australian of the Year for her advocacy and awareness work towards reconciliation.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian congratulated the winners for going "above and beyond" for the community and said Mr Fitzsimmons had earned the "trust and respect" of the NSW population.

"Working alongside Shane during last season's bushfires was an unforgettable experience. In times of devastation and great heartache, he remained authentic and excelled in his role both operationally and emotionally," Ms Berejiklian said.

"The past 12 months have been the most challenging in living memory and we should all be proud of the recipients and grateful for their passion, resilience and leadership."

Fitzsimmons is now in competition for overall 2021 Australian of the Year against eight others, including former federal chief medical officer Brendan Murphy, who was nominated ACT's Australian of the Year for his work leading Australia's COVID-19 fight earlier this year.

 

Originally published as Shane Fitzsimmons honoured after deadly NSW fires

NSW Local Hero of the Year Rosemary Kariuki. Picture: Troy Snook
NSW Local Hero of the Year Rosemary Kariuki. Picture: Troy Snook

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