Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) is marking 25 years since one of its toughest tests, the Thredbo landslide, which laid the foundations for the organisation’s world-leading Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) capabilities.

On 30 July 1997, firefighters responded to a landslide on the slopes of the Thredbo ski village, which destroyed two lodges and claimed 18 lives.

165 FRNSW personnel received commendations for their meritorious service during the marathon search and rescue operation that followed.

Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery Steph Cooke said challenges like the Thredbo landslide have helped make FRNSW a world leader in Urban Search and Rescue.

“Our firefighters played a critical role in the Thredbo response and what they learned from that operation has stood them in good stead 25 years on,” Ms Cooke said.

“FRNSW crews are fully equipped to respond to structure collapses across the State and are also able to deploy overseas within six hours to assist with USAR operations.

“I’m so proud that our specialist personnel are some of the most highly trained and in-demand in the world.”

The Thredbo landslide also produced one of Australia’s most remarkable survival stories. On 2 August 1997, firefighter Steve Hirst, now a Chief Superintendent, registered movement under the mountain of rubble. By that evening the disaster’s only survivor, Stuart Diver, was rescued.

Assistant Commissioner David Lewis, who was part of the Thredbo recovery mission, said FRNSW learnt important lessons from the event.

“Not only was it a building collapse, but it occurred in an alpine environment with snow and cold temperatures, something we hadn’t really faced before,” Assistant Commissioner Lewis said.

“After the event, FRNSW set out to become a world leader in responding to structure collapses and today is a valued member of the United Nations International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).”

25 years ago FRNSW firefighters would train at a suburban Sydney tip, now they have the $19 million Emergency Services Academy at Orchard Hills, which provides state-of-the-art training environments to sharpen their USAR skills.

FRNSW USAR operators continue to assist in disasters around the world, including the 2004 earthquake in Banda Aceh, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and 2015 cyclone aftermath in Vanuatu.

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