Woman chief blazes the way at Riverton

TAKING CHARGE: Incoming Riverton fire brigade chief Helen Bull talks with George Seator, who retired as chief on March 31.
TAKING CHARGE: Incoming Riverton fire brigade chief Helen Bull talks with George Seator, who retired as chief on March 31.

Incoming Riverton volunteer fire brigade chief fire officer Helen Bull says it is the thrill and challenge of being called to an emergency that has driven her up the ranks in the past 22 years to become what is believed to be the only female fire chief in the South Island.

Mrs Bull began as a volunteer firefighter at age 20 and remembered going to her first job with outgoing chief George Seator, who had then been in the service for three years. He was driving the fire engine that went flying down the main street to a car fire near the Riverton Racecourse.

Mr Seator, who retired on March 31 after 25 years, the last nine as fire chief, remembered nearly tipping the truck over as they came around a corner.

Mrs Bull said the car fire was out by the time the crew arrived, but it was enough of an adventure for the adrenaline to kick in and get her hooked.

The only woman at the time, Mrs Bull said she initially worried about proving herself, but that eased through the years as she gained experience

"My attitude is that you never say you can't do something. It was about not hesitating; not being afraid."

She went through the rank structure, taking courses and regularly improving her skills.

Mr Seator said Mrs Bull was one of only four female fire chiefs in New Zealand and the only one in the South Island.

Women made up about 13 per cent of volunteer firefighters in New Zealand, he said.

Of the 18 volunteers in the Riverton brigade, two were women.

Mrs Bull said a commitment to public service was something she shared with her husband, Ranui Bull, a Colac Bay senior station officer and training officer for the New Zealand Coast Guard.

The couple met as firefighters early in their volunteer careers, she said. They have two children, aged 11 and 9.

She hoped they would also have an interest in public service as they grew up.

"They definitely will know how to put out a fire," she said.

Fire service senior strategic communications adviser Karlum Lattimore said the service did not keep track of the gender of firefighters but, to her knowledge, Mrs Bull was one of "just a handful" of female fire chiefs in New Zealand.

gwyneth.hyndman@stl.co.nz

The Southland Times