Volunteers lifeblood of service

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By DAVID HILL

Whenever there is a fire, accident or emergency, volunteers are often first to answer the call.

In smaller communities, those first responders are the local volunteer fire brigade.

North Canterbury’s Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) leaders say the region is well served by fire volunteers, but some brigades could always do with more, especially those who can be on-call during weekdays.

The Rangiora Volunteer Fire Brigade ran a successful recruitment drive this year and now has a waiting list, chief fire officer Hamish Peter says.

“That’s why we did the recruitment campaign. We are still in the early stages, but it’s really heartening to see.

“We’ve still got to go through police checks and training, but through the support of the media and the public we’ve attracted some very high calibre people.”

FENZ North Canterbury principal fire officer Bruce Janes says most of his rural brigades have about 20 volunteers, while his Marlborough-Kaikoura counterpart John Foley says some of his brigades have found a novel way of ensuring they are covered.

“One of the issues we are facing is a lot of our brigade members, if they’re working, it takes them away during the day,” Mr Foley says.

“Often, it’s the women staffing the brigades while the children are at school and covering the base until the men come home and there’s a few female chiefs appearing around the country now.”

The training and support for volunteers is quite extensive, meaning employers can benefit from having highly skilled employees, Mr Peter says.

“We are not only training our people to be good at what they do, but also exposing them to a number of things which can transfer to their working life and home life.”

Employers make a big contribution in supporting the volunteers, Mr Janes says.

“Kirwee Garage has three volunteers, so whenever the alarm goes off the garage closes, so we have to be mindful of that.”

Families also make a sacrifice whenever volunteers respond to a call, Mr Foley says. “We wish to thank our volunteers and their families. When the siren goes the whole family wakes up and not just the firefighter, so they all make a sacrifice.”

Volunteer firefighters respond not only to fires, but to vehicle crashes, medical emergencies, hazardous materials spills, weather events and Civil Defence emergencies.

To become a volunteer, talk to the local chief fire officer or register at fireandemergency.nz/volunteering/want-to-join-us/.