A small brigade making a big difference

Training night . . . Clutha Valley volunteer firefighters (from left) Paul Gouman, Leonard Cunningham, Brayden Brice, John Kee, Sheldon Williams, Richard Hunter and Ben Jarvis meet on Tuesday nights for training and maintenance. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

For most people the air raid siren of the local volunteer fire brigade is a source of speculation — has there been a traffic crash?

There may be a scrub or structural fire, or perhaps a 111 call about a medical emergency.

For a few, the siren comes with a cellphone alert and the directive to drop everything and rally at the fire station.

South Island 111 calls are managed by a dispatcher in Christchurch, who can remotely activate the sirens and alerts to any Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) unit, even unlocking the on-site personnel entrance to circumvent issues with keys and security.

‘‘We are a pretty small brigade but we’ve already had eight callouts this year,’’ Clutha Valley Volunteer Fire Brigade Deputy Chief Fire Officer Richard Hunter said.

Most callouts are for ground fires but the first-response skills of the volunteers is the reason red fire engines and fully prepared firefighters are so often encountered outside quiet residences with no smoke in sight.

Making the cut . . . Clutha Valley volunteer firefighters and associates take plenty of training with the jaws of life. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Ambulance crews with specialists trained to manage more complex medical emergencies are often hard pressed to attend the country’s high number of callouts, but Fenz understands that when it recruits it is acquiring far more than a novice to train into a firefighter.

Fenz welcomes people with varied life experience, educational backgrounds and work skills because those everyday abilities become a pooled resource of knowledge likely to come in useful in the array of emergencies teams have to tackle.

Volunteers are relied on at Fenz’s more than 600 stations nationwide to help communities prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

As well as attending fires, medical incidents and motor vehicle accidents, volunteers are front-line personnel for severe weather events and other requests for help, including search and rescue emergencies.

Your local volunteer fire brigade can also be called on for advice such as installing and checking smoke alarms and to help to improve overall fire safety on your property and throughout our communities.

‘‘Access is a big thing for us that we would like people to consider,’’ Chief Fire Officer John Kee said.

‘‘If there are trees and branches leaning across your driveway, or if the only thing that can get down a race to a hay barn is a four-wheel-drive, then a fire crew is likely to have difficulty getting their appliance in to fight the fire and save your property.’’