Fire chiefs forged in wake of sea scouts

00:29, Apr 09 2012

Hundreds of children descend on Lyttelton this weekend for the National Sea Scout Regatta, but the Lyttelton Sea Scouts troop is also hosting a reunion in honour of the group's centenary.

PETER CAMPBELL talks to three former scouts who are now fire chiefs.


Governors Bay fire chief Andrew Norris is a robust, ruddy man in his late forties. A man of action, he projects energy and exudes competence.

"You get a thrill of excitement bringing chaos into structured control," he says, explaining one of the drivers that keeps him in the fire service.

A volunteer firefighter and controller, he has worked with the fire service for 28 years.

Norris believes the service and scouting have a lot in common.

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"The sea scouts were really a big adventure. We did all the things that scouts did - camps, making bivvies, cooking on open fires, but we also had the sailing. We used to sail out to Quail Island and camp for the weekend. Everything we did was exciting and new."

It was enjoying that mix of excitement and trepidation that brought Norris from sea scouts to the fire service.

"When you go out in the engine you don't know what you are going to deal with. You don't know what injuries people will have, you don't know how dangerous it will be. When we get there, I look at the situation, tell my crew what I want them to do and they do it the best way they can.

"When the situation comes under control and you can look back and say 'whew we're on top of this', then you start enjoying the work."

Lyttelton fire chief Mark Buckley, a sea scout at the same time as Norris, agrees the sea scouts and fire service share a sense of adventure, but believes the two groups are kept alive with camaraderie and team spirit.

"The scouts and the fire service are fraternities. You are sharing experiences and you're a community. In the end, both organisations are like a family."

It is that community connection that has made the skills that both Norris and Buckley learned as scouts so useful in the fire service.

"I went right through from a cub to a troop leader. That's some 15 years of experience.

"All the things we did, we did as part of a team.

"It teaches you to see other people's points of view, how to manage and organise people. These are skills I use every day," Norris says.

Buckley agrees many of his communication and team skills were developed as a scout.

"You aren't taught them but, if you are successful at scouting, you pick them up. These skills come from being within the organisation. They become second nature."

The two also attribute their success and focus to habits learned as sea scouts.

"Success is clearly rewarded. The scout troop is a structured organisation. You rise through the hierarchy and your uniform and badges show what you have achieved. The highest award is Queen's Scout and that's awarded by the governor-general," says Buckley.

The goals, the camaraderie and the community emphasis of scouting led Norris and Buckley to join the fire service as a natural progression from scouts.

"We had the Fire Flag competition where we did fireman drills - running out hoses and carrying people. The local fire brigade trained us. A lot of ex-scouts just carried on into the brigade when they finished scouting," Norris says.

In addition to teamwork and some basic firefighting skills, the scouts provide children with experiences that build resilience and self reliance, says Buckley.

"It installs common sense. You get to see the consequences of what happens. If you don't put your tent up correctly, it's going to be uncomfortable if it rains. If you capsize when sailing, it's going to be cold, tiring and a lot of hard work.

"Life is fraught with incidences, it comes down to people learning life skills which help them through."

Ultimately, a significant common motivator for Norris and Buckley is enjoying adventure.

"Young people have a need for adventure. Life has to be an adventure, otherwise why would you get up in the morning? Adventure is now harder to find," Buckley says.

Amberley fire chief Graeme Dalley was a troop leader when Buckley and Norris were scouts and believes the practical focus of scouting reflects Kiwis' can-do attitude.

"You learnt by doing and did a lot of doing," he explains.

Just as in the fire service, Dalley says, you never knew what would happen on a camp.

"It is about practical people being in their element - getting out there. It's about being prepared, and acting under stress and emotion. Survival skills were always part of the experience."

The can-do attitude applies equally to the fire service. Norris says fire training was rewarding as people learned how to deal with emergencies and had the confidence to do the job.

"We are often the frontline in any emergency. If there is a car accident, we are often there before the ambulance and police because we are in every community and can respond quickly.

"We don't only put out fires, we rescue people from car accidents, do first aid."

The skills and resources that the fire service has on hand were demonstrated after the February 22 earthquake.

"The fire service has machinery and we also had people with appropriate training in the community so, in places like Lyttelton and Governors Bay, we were able to respond quickly and help the community out," says Norris.

The chiefs believe this is a principal advantage of the service.

"Because we are volunteers from the local community we have diverse backgrounds and training, so we always have someone who can deal with a situation. Our builders were particularly useful during the earthquake," Norris says.

But whether it's going on camps, sailing, putting out fires or saving lives, Dalley believes that it all goes back to the same root.

"It's about being challenged. I always remember my days with the scouts as some of my best. Whenever you meet up with someone you've been to scouts with, no matter how long ago, there is an immediate connection and we're back to talking about glory days. There's a lot to reminisce about."

There will be a lot of reminiscing this weekend as former scouts get together to race on Lyttelton Harbour in sea scout cutters and swap sea yarns in the evening.

The Press