“Shocked” was how Jason Lyall (39) described his initial reaction to the announcement of his confirmation as the newest and youngest chief fire officer of the Balclutha brigade.
“It was a surprise, but then I knew I had to step up and get on with it,” he said.
Balclutha is the biggest brigade in the East Otago area having 30 active volunteers manning two pumps, a car crash unit, tanker and operational support ute.
“A majority of [the] brigade have between three to six years of service and are drivers, builders, storemen, retailers, vets, nurses, school teachers and electricians,” Mr Lyall said.
A volunteer fireman since 2000, Mr Lyall spent his first two years at Kaitangata then moved to the Balclutha brigade.
Promoted to a station officer’s position in 2011, he shares his duties with his full-time job as a Fonterra milk tanker driver at Stirling, a position he has held for the past 11 years.
Upon the recent retirement of Chief Fire Officer Graeme Ferguson, his mentor and friend, Mr Lyall said he had been asked, along with others, to apply for the position.
Once it had sunk in what was being offered, he realised what a great opportunity had been afforded him.
“Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) service has given us a much bigger role and increased the levels of support for us, so don’t be surprised to see us appear first on the scene as there may not be an ambulance available right then.”
He planned to make the brigade more visible in the community through more public awareness: school visits, charity event appearances and open days at the station.
Mr Lyall said he also wanted to facilitate more integration between the 12 other brigades in the Clutha District Council region.
“I have great support from their CFOs but I would like to see more training together, sharing of resources and knowledge.
“It’s all about getting to know your neighbours.”
An active relaxer who likes a challenge, Mr Lyall said his core philosophy was always family first.
He was very mindful of the support his wife, Julie, and children, Aiden (7) and Taylah (4), gave him especially when he came back from a difficult callout.
“I really do have to thank the partners of brigade members for all the support they give them.”
Fonterra was very supportive, allowing him to change working shifts around to undertake management or operational training,he said.
The brigade had been very busy since Christmas and this had added to the total of 171 callouts for the year, its highest yet.
“Our role is changing, so expect to see a lot more of us in the community,” Mr Lyall said.