Beeper sends rural fire crews to all emergencies

Blackmount Volunteer Rural Fire Force chief Neil Robertson, left, and deputy chief David Coveney are part of the 17 Blackmount volunteers who sacrifice their time as part of the Southern Rural Fire Authority.
Blackmount Volunteer Rural Fire Force chief Neil Robertson, left, and deputy chief David Coveney are part of the 17 Blackmount volunteers who sacrifice their time as part of the Southern Rural Fire Authority.

Every time a volunteer firefighter's emergency beeper goes off, it's a good chance the emergency is for someone they know.

Blackmount Volunteer Rural Fire Force chief Neil Robertson said looking after their community was why rural firefighters dropped what they were doing to respond to an emergency.

"We have to look out for each other," he said.

That would be the story for all eight Volunteer Rural Fire Forces that make up The Southern Rural Fire Authority, Mr Robertson said from the Blackmount Station.

The authority is celebrating its 10th birthday and held a recent awards night and gathering to thank everyone who helped make the organisation successful.

The Blackmount chief, who has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 30 years, said the formation of the Southern Rural Fire Authority had been the best thing to happen to the small volunteer forces.

"The Southern Rural Fire Authority has transformed the rural forces. It has funded the building of new stations and paid for the right gear. Coming under the authority has strengthened southern rural firefighting," Mr Robertson said.

Deputy chief David Coveney said it was a real partnership.

"The authority helps provide the tools but the communities supply the volunteers," he said.

The old Blackmount station was previously a shed at one of the volunteer's farms equipped with a small pump and few lengths of hose, the experienced pair remembered.

The rural volunteer forces do more than just fight fires.

About 50 per cent of the Blackmount station's jobs were as first responders to medical emergencies, Mr Robertson said.

"We are being called more and more to crashes with an increase in traffic along the Southern Scenic Route," he said.

The support from St John was great and the the training the volunteers received allowed them to do a difficult job, Mr Robertson said.

A shiny trophy sitting on the bar of the Blackmount Volunteer Rural Fire Station is testament to the station's crew readiness to meet the challenge of first response.

Mr Robertson said it was a proud moment for the station to receive the Medical First Responders Award.

The rural stations were rated on the level of training they undertook each year with St John.

The station also took the top award for its depot based on annual audits of equipment, including truck and trailer standards as well as Personal Protective Safety Equipment.

Blackmount firefighters have even headed overseas to battle blazes on foreign soil.

In February, Mr Coveney was deployed to Victoria, Australia to fight bushfires that ravaged the state.

The call-up showed the rural firefighters were considered up to the job and the experience would rub-off on his colleagues, Mr Robertson said.

Southern Rural Fire Authority principal rural fire officer Mike Grant said the awards night and 10-year anniversary was a chance to acknowledge the work rural fire fighters did and celebrate their achievements.

"When rural firefighters get called to a fire, it not only impacts on their business or work but also their families," he said.

"It's important we acknowledged the families behind the firefighters that make it possible in small rural communities."


RURAL VOLUNTEER FIGHTING FORCE The Southern Rural Fire Authority was formed in 2003 and amalgamated the rural fire responsibilities of Southland District Council, Gore District Council, Invercargill City Council, Southern Plantations Rural Fire Authority and Department of Conservation Southland Conservancy.

In total, about 3.5 million hectares or one eighth of the land area of NZ is within the Southern Rural Fire Authority.

Southern Rural Fire Authority is governed by a committee of representatives from the three councils, DOC, forest organisations and NZ Fire Service. Des Minehan is the chairman.

The district has eight Volunteer Rural Fire Forces: Athol, Garston, Blackmount, Waikawa, Hedgehope, Beaumont, Drummond and Milford Sound. Agreements are also in place to use the NZ Fire Service and other fire suppression providers if required, including aerial fire fighting capacity through the use of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft

SOUTHERN RURAL FIRE AUTHORITY BOARD AWARDS National Certificate in Fire and Rescue - Level 2: Bruce Alsop, Frank O'Brien, Ken BradleY, Robert McNaughton, Brett Cordes, Roger Mariu, Simon Jamieson. National Certificate in Fire and Rescue - Level 3: Neil Robertson, Keri Tuna, Warren Heslip, Chris McAulay.

Leadership Scholarship: Matthew Beer, Drummond Volunteer Rural Fire Force

Medical First Responders Award: Blackmount Volunteer Rural Fire Force

Depot Awards: Category 1 - More than 2 vehicles or trailer kits, Blackmount Volunteer Rural Fire Force; Category 2 - 1 vehicle or trailer kit, Southwood Export


The Southland Times