The peace and tranquillity of last Sunday morning in Balclutha was disturbed by the sudden wailing of a fire alarm at Silver Fern Farms’ (SFF) Finegand plant.
It was not signalling a major fire – it was marking the culmination of three months’ hard work and planning for a Fire and Emergency NZ (Fenz) annual training exercise for local volunteer brigades.
First on the scene was the SFF’s own emergency response team led by Donald Leckie, closely followed by three appliances from the Balclutha, Kaitangata and Kaka Point brigades plus a rural fire tanker and Fenz support vehicle.
Kaitangata brigade senior station officer and exercise co-ordinator Antony (Ants) Dunn said the plan was to bring together all the local brigades to fight a notional fire somewhere deep inside the plant complex.
“Today, we brought together all three brigades, plus the Silver Fern Farms’ ERT from Finegand to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each unit.
“The crews responded to the callout and, when they arrived, found they were looking for three injured workers trapped in a smoke-filled section of the complex,” he said.
The scenario for this exercise was based around a smoke-engulfed room somewhere in the complex in which three persons had been reported missing.
Two were reportedly unconscious and one was in distress in an area under construction surrounded by multiple hazards. But first the teams of firefighters clad in heavy fire-resistant suits and wearing breathing apparatus, had to find the victims and the seat of the fire.
The plant was not working due to seasonal and renovation requirements and it meant many dark and tiny areas had to be searched in order to locate the area where the internal alarm had gone off.
With the SFF ERT co-ordinating the search, multiple teams scoured the building until the source of the blaze and the victims were found in a back room on the first storey.
Clambering up and down narrow smoke-filled stairwells past numerous hazards, the crews eventually reached the three victims and aided their recovery, all while fighting the fire.
“The outcome today was really, really good as we had a great response from the teams.
“We intermingled the stations on to different appliances so that we weren’t all in our normal callout teams and everyone had to learn to work with others of different skill levels” Mr Dunn said.
Silver Fern Farms Finegand health and safety manager Janine Dalley said it was a great exercise to undertake especially as the large factory complex posed some very real hazards should a major fire break out.
“Our response team worked really well with the other brigades and everyone learnt lessons from this, their annual fire training exercise.”Mr Dunn said lessons were learnt by all participants and the training notes would be reviewed over the coming weeks to see how they could fine-tune the skills at each brigade.