Answering callouts from the community

Handling pressure . . . Clutha Valley Volunteer Firefighters make short work of vehicle washing with Sheldon Williams (far right) managing the fire hose. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

The Clutha Valley Fire Brigade (CVFB) is in the fortunate position of having 17 volunteers available for a minimum complement of 15, but Deputy Chief Fire Officer Richard Hunter said there was always room for skilled, motivated people at Clydevale’s Allangrange Rd station.

In 1974 an investigation committee looked into the need for a local fire crew in the Clydevale area and in September 1977 a new station building managed by Clutha, Bruce and Tuapeka counties was opened.

Half the station’s $20,000 cost was raised locally, in addition to some voluntary construction labour, and in 1979 it came under Fire and Emergency New Zealand fire service management as an auxiliary to the Balclutha brigade.

In 2017 the CVFB became an entirely independent branch, but with a pump appliance on par with any station and a tanker to supply water for blazes far from piped supply or waterways, it is a vital supplement to other brigades throughout the district.

Leonard Cunningham has been with the CVFB for nearly 20 years and his detailed local knowledge means he often drives the tanker.

Local knowledge comes not only from real-time callouts but also regular training at sites the brigade is likely to attend in the event of a real emergency, such as Clutha Valley School, local shops and garages, private farms and properties and the internationally recognised Danone infant formula plant, which was recently upgraded with a state-of-the art boiler system fuelled by forestry waste.

Chop shop . . . Balclutha CFO Jason Lyall in a convertible — courtesy of CVFB training. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

‘‘I’d say our callouts are roughly about a third each structural fire, medical event and rural fire,’’ DCFO Hunter said.

Rural fires were anything from scrub, hedge or forest blazes to stubble burn-offs blown out of control by the wind.

‘‘You quickly learn the wind is a huge factor,’’ he said.

‘‘We get equinoctial winds in the same manner as ocean tides, so as well as gales reigniting fires thought to be safe, events like trees falling over over roads and power lines is almost a seasonal thing.’’

CVFB firefighter Sheldon Williams thought about the complexities he felt when he received an alert to join an emergency crew.

‘‘You can’t ever be pleased about it but there’s definitely adrenaline and a bit of a rush. To begin with you don’t know much about it — you’ve just got to get there and get tooled up — but details add up in real time and you’re becoming aware of which aspects of your training will be called for . . .It could be the most direct way you can look out for your community and being able to do that is a pretty valuable feeling.’’