Urban and rural firefighters: Working together

  Posted on 28th June 2016 by Loralee Hyde in Membership news, UFBA News

Working as one

Lisa and Stephanie

Lisa Davis (left) volunteers as a firefighter with both the Otago Rural Fire Authority and the Millers Flat Volunteer Fire Brigade.

When she moved from Dunedin to Millers Flat in Central Otago, Lisa looked at ways to contribute to her local community.

“It seems that nearly everyone in Millers Flat and the Teviot Valley ‘pitch in’ to help this amazing community we live in,” she says. “I knew a few local brigade members and thought ‘why not give firefighting a go?’

“It turns out being a volunteer firefighter is a great fit for my love of teamwork, community responsibility and a spirit of thinking outside of yourself.”

Lisa enjoys the laughter and camaraderie at training and community events and the professionalism when at an incident.

“The men and women at my local Otago Rural and Millers Flat Brigade have given many years of dedicated service to our community,” she says. “I only hope I am able to achieve even half of what they have.”

Nearly all of the Millers Flat Brigade members are also rural firefighters. “We all work as one,” says Lisa. “We are very lucky to have such committed, skilled and humble people living in and supporting our community.”

Stephanie Rotarangi (right), Principal Rural Fire Officer at Otago Rural Fire Authority, says approximately 18 per cent of the 340 rural volunteer firefighters in Otago are also members of New Zealand Fire Service brigades.

“It is commonplace in Otago for brigades such as Millers Flat Volunteer Fire Brigade and Teviot Volunteer Rural Fire Force to share personnel and resources,” she says.

Otago is a large region (3.9 million hectares) resulting in a unique hazardscape for rural firefighting with varying terrain, fluctuating weather and remote isolated regions - leading to challenges such as availability of personnel during holidays and spike day resources.

“The time commitment firefighters make to our organisation is huge,” Stephanie says. “This includes training courses, practices, reporting, keeping the appropriate level of fitness, meetings, community events and fundraising.”

With 1,000 incidents a year in the region, she says there is a lot of time given to ensure each fire force is in a position to respond when required, with the appropriate resources, and in a safe manner.

The rural fire forces are also grateful for being part of a wider network such as the UFBA. “This provides a voice and peer review and gives our volunteers the opportunity to participate in competitions and events,” she says.

Photo:Lynda van Kempen

A dual role

BradleyWhen Bradley Shanks was growing up in the small town of Owaka, his mother was a volunteer for St John and a couple of volunteer firefighters lived on their little street.

He started as a volunteer in Gore in 2001 to give back to his community. In March this year, Bradley became Chief Fire Officer at Feilding Volunteer Fire Brigade. He is also Deputy Principal Rural Fire Officer (DPRFO) and Emergency Management Advisor at Horizons Regional Council.

Bradley does not find a lot of difference between his CFO and DPRFO roles. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure all members are trained as best as possible and everybody goes home safe after every call.”

“However, different skills are required for rural firefighting than for urban,” he says. “The training is completely different due to the vast variety of land out there and the need to adapt to that.

“In the area I work in, we have a coastal area that is almost dry all year round so fires burn light and fast. In the hill country backing on to the Ruahine ranges, fires burn slower and longer but are more intense.

“Then if we look at the urban side, there are the specialist areas like Hazmat, structure fires and vehicle crashes that require a completely different set of skills and training.”

Bradley says he’s lucky to have a great employer and most of what he does as DPRFO can cross over into his CFO role, for example Fire Service leadership meetings. “My family are also amazing and without their support, my paid job and my role as CFO would be very hard to do.”

He sees big advantages in rural fire forces joining the UFBA. “The UFBA is there as your voice so they can talk to the right people at the right level.

“The up-to-date information in UFBA newsletters on what is happening throughout the fire service benefits all. And the opportunity to attend the annual UFBA conference gives you a good chance to meet other members from across the country and build relationships with them.”

Bradley says he is looking forward to the new Fire and Emergency New Zealand organisation (FENZ). “I believe it will benefit our communities countrywide.

“We are going through some exciting times and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have our say.”

Photo: Fairfax Media NZ / Manawatu Standard

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