As a youngster did you dream of driving a fire engine, lights flashing, sirens wailing, a cool uniform and a buzz of excitement? Well, you may make that dream a reality if you talk to Tairua’s Volunteer Fire Brigade chief, who is on the lookout for new members to join his team.
Fire chief Chris New says there are currently around fifteen members in the brigade and they need more.
They get called out to house fires, scrub fires and motor accidents, as well as ‘purple calls’, which are life-threatening situations. They deal with faulty alarms, cars rolled over, gas leaks from cylinders and the occasional plane crash. They also assist the ambulance service. Sometimes the brigade is called to help in other areas such as Whangamata and Cooks Beach. Chris says most accidents “aren’t messy’ and often involve getting people out that are trapped in cars, using the brigade’s specialised equipment. If you have a heart attack and phone for an ambulance, it’s likely the fire brigade will turn up, as about 50 percent of Tairua’s call-outs are now medical. “House fires are always exciting and there have been some big ones in the area. And as far as road accidents are concerned, I can remember all the fatalities,” says Chris. One of the most challenging fires in recent years was at Pumpkin Hill. It took a couple of days to extinguish and required evacuation of residents.
Over the past year up to June 17, Tairua Volunteer Fire Brigade attended sixteen motor vehicle crashes, fifteen medical incidents, six property fires, six assistance at helicopter landing zones and two vegetation fires. It has also been called out to one hazardous substance incident, three unspecified calls and five false alarms. The brigade attended 54 incidents over 365 days.
Chris says training has now become very important and helps members reach a high standard of efficiency. Teamwork is also important. Members need to be reasonably fit and undergo a medical check and police checks to join up. A HT licence is also required to become a driver, as well as completion of an emergency driving course. As well as those on ‘the front line’, the brigade also has members for operational support and assisting with things like traffic management. “When someone joins the brigade they become part of a huge family, locally and nationally. Some members like to check out their colleagues in other brigades when travelling in another area.” Although the fire siren wakes up the community in the middle of the night, residents do become aware that there are people in their community who jump out of bed, sometimes in atrocious weather, to help others in distress. And often the distressed person can hear the siren and feels relief that help is on the way. Response times can make a big difference to outcomes, especially when lives are in danger. As well as the fire appliance, the Tairua brigade has a First Response vehicle with medical equipment.
“Our aim is to get out the door as fast as we can, and if we are going to a cardiac arrest then this vehicle goes first and gets there quicker.” Some incidents end up with patients needing the Westpac air ambulance and Chris has high praise for this helicopter service, pointing out that a local patient may get to hospital sooner than someone who lives in the city. “And if you live in Hamilton or Auckland region, then the helicopter may take you to the hospital closer to your home, which means you are closer to your family support.”
When driving to an emergency with lights flashing and sirens going, the truck is allowed to do up to 25kms over the speed limit. The fire truck has a huge pump and can delivery 2,000 litres of water. “I remember the first time I drove the fire truck”, Chris chuckles. “I had to go down a long driveway and I got stuck! Not a good start.”
Experience has shown Chris how quickly and fiercely a fire can grow, and how important it is to have working smoke alarms in a building and make a habit of regularly testing them. “If you can smell smoke in the house or the fire alarms goes off, identify the problem and then get out and dial 111. Most people don’t realise how fast smoke can travel, and that when asleep, you can’t smell it. Smoke inhalation gets you immediately and there are many things in a house, like plastics, that are very toxic to breathe. Fire fighters have to identify the cause of fires that they go to. If we don’t know, or it’s a serious fire, we get a fire safety officer to investigate. They are good at this. I’ve been on a fire investigation course and it’s very interesting and technicaI. It’s important, because identifying the cause can lead to actions that save lives in the future.”
Brigade members, Ricky Tawa and Mark Cory-Wright, have achieved nationally, winning first place in the New Zealand Hose Running Championships a few years ago. Asked why he got involved, Chris said when he arrived in Tairua he wanted to put something back in to the community. It is nearly 40 years since his first call-out and he admits he still feels a rush of adrenalin when the siren goes.
“I really want to stress the importance of us having the local fire brigade and ambulance service in our town. Some people don’t seem to have time to give their time, and that’s sad. The big thing is that if we didn’t have those services in Tairua a lot of people would not be able to live here. But if everyone put some of their time back into this community, what a difference it would make to this wonderful place that we live in.” Chris has served two terms on Tairua/Pauanui Community Board and is currently deputy chair. He recently retired from his plumbing business and appreciates the support of his wife Gail, who is ex-secretary treasurer of the fire brigade.
Ex fire chief, Warwick Brooks, has researched the early history of Tairua’s fire brigade, including information from Francis Bennett’s book “Tairua”. Following several huge fires in the area, the minutes of Kauri Timber Mill Company in 1889 recorded, ‘a fire brigade had recently been formed. However, following the demise of the timber company, the ‘on site’ brigade appears to have suffered the same fate.’ Six decades later, in 1963, a holiday bach burnt to the ground and this was the catalyst for the forming of Tairua’s modern brigade.
For information on joining the brigade contact Chris New, 0274987231.
Pictured is Tairua volunteer Fire Brigade chief, Chris New, is looking for new members to join the brigade.