Keeping all brigade systems connected

Fire man . . . Forty›year Fire Service veteran links Clutha district volunteer fire brigades. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

Balclutha Fire Station is refurbished and up to speed with administrative changes, and career firefighter Rob Torrance is group manager, Clutha district

‘‘I don’t stand by the phone. I make sure you get what you need when the phone rings,’’ Mr Torrance said

‘‘The current regime came into being on September 27, 2021. I was in Queenstown in the same sort of role and the year before I was with the career staff in Dunedin. Before the change, everybody from Oamaru down to Clinton and west to Lawrence-Middlemarch were all under East Otago. That’s been split now into Dunedin, Clutha Group and Oamaru/Waitaki.’’

Married, with adult sons and grandchildren, Mr Torrance is also chairman of Special Olympics New Zealand, a former general manager of the NBL Otago Nuggets, and says it was basketball — he was captain of the regional team — which led him meeting the fire brigade team and beginning his firefighting career in 1982.

‘‘The old system was pretty busy. In Queenstown, I was looking after 20 stations, with Clutha district I’ve got 11. I’m here regular days so I’m closer and more available for training, HR and operations. The chief officer here is Jason [Lyall], he’s the boss, and among the things we do is look two or three years down the track together. From that he’ll assess what he and the team here will need, I facilitate a plan for that and do the same with the other district stations.’’

Mr Torrance explained full building assessments carried out at district fire stations led to the refurbishment of Balclutha Station to ensure its capability as a district hub.

‘‘We’re Fire and Emergency. Change in legislation in 2017 broadened our approach and we’re funded for that now. Your 111 call will be picked up in Christchurch, they’ll push the button for Balclutha and feed the information through to the local crew as they’re driving to the station to get an appliance and go to the callout.

I train with local teams, earn their trust and make sure they can respond in their community, whatever their needs may be. Volunteer firefighters are very good with structure fires, medical emergencies and road crashes but they don’t have the time to train as specialists. They’re absolutely great at the wide range of basic procedures, and that includes assessing situations and opening the way for the specialists in their wider team. For example, if Balclutha has a Hazmat (hazardous material emergency), I’m here to help ensure procedures have been anticipated and are ready to go into action.

‘‘Over the last few years, I stepped up to administrative roles when they needed me, but most of my years I was getting paid to ride fire engines. I am a group and operational commander on the ground at emergencies but a big part of life now is making sure when you dial 111 you get the appropriate response that’s professional and correct and effectively saving lives and property.’’