The United States ambassador has met with Tauranga Youth Search and Rescue volunteers who have recently returned from California where deadly wildfires were burning.
Four Western Bay of Plenty teenagers and two instructors joined a major search and rescue exercise inside Yosemite National Park where deadly wildfires closed parts of the park just days before they left.
Last night, the United States ambassador Scott Brown met with the YSAR team to talk about their experience during an overnight visit to Tauranga for the first time.
Tauranga YSAR leader Neil Penniston said the team spent two weeks training and exchanging ideas with the Marin County Search and Rescue team before arriving home on July 28.
"The trip was awesome on so many levels; educationally, skill acquisition, improving student self-confidence as well as learning new leadership and management skills," he said.
"Whatever the students decide to do in the future the skills they have learned and experiences they had will be remembered for a long time and will serve them well in whatever career they choose."
Penniston said the trip to the United States confirmed the objective to see if integrating youth into an adult Search and Rescue team could work.
"Our overseas exercise has attracted a lot interest from within the New Zealand search and rescue community and will hopefully lead to a better relationship between YSAR and our senior counterparts like LandSAR," he said.
Meeting the ambassador and his wife Gail was a real privilege, Penniston said.
"It was also great to be able to thank him in person for the embassy sponsorship that allowed the trip to go ahead, we learned and experience so much in a short period of time," he said.
Currently, nine New Zealand firefighters are in California helping fight a series of fires that have caused deaths and mass evacuations.
The Tauranga contingent was hosted by a senior firefighter who was currently battling the blazes.
The teenagers shared photos with the ambassador and his wife of the students learning rope climbing skills inside Yosemite National Park, searching for a missing person at Yosemite Falls, visiting the local sheriff's office and fire department and training around Golden Gate Bridge.
The ambassador also presented each of the YSAR members with a personalised challenge coin he had designed to reflect his 35-year military history, former US senator role and dual ambassadorial posts in New Zealand and Samoa.
An American contingent from Marin County Search and Rescue was expected to visit in April next year.
Tauranga Youth Search and Rescue leader Mark 'Dingo' Noack said being involved with the youth was incredibly rewarding.
"Aside from the opportunities it brings, like meeting the ambassador, it's so rewarding to see the development of these students in the YSAR programme and certainly while we were in the US."
Tauranga YSAR student Laura Degas said the impressive depth and range of skills of the youth members on the Marin Search and Rescue team gave her hope for the possibility of a collaboration between YSAR and LandSAR.
"It made me realise that with our training and such dedicated and passionate instructors, it's definitely attainable," she said.
"Working with and seeing the youth members take charge of trainings in such an efficient and effective way gave me a better understanding of how to lead and has certainly given me more confidence to give it a go."
While in New Zealand, the ambassador will also meet with the mayor, exporters and local ag-tech businesses as well as the Waihi gold mine.