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At the helm . . . St Andrews Volunteer Fire Brigade acting deputy chief fire officer Rob Grant (left) and acting chief fire officer Rob Usmar in front of the brigade's two appliances. PHOTO: CLAIRE ALLISON

by Claire Allison

They’ve got new chiefs and a new truck, and now the St Andrews Volunteer Fire Brigade is seeking some new volunteers to boost numbers.

Acting Chief Fire Officer Rob Usmar said there had been major changes in the brigade over the past five years with the resignation of some long-serving members, including three chief fire officers and a senior firefighter – who, together, had given the brigade 157 years’ service. Two current firefighters were about to complete 25 years’ and 30 years’ service respectively.

“Like everybody else, that’s our biggest struggle, to man the trucks in the daytime.” – St Andrews acting chief fire officer Rob Usmar

Mr Usmar, along with Acting Deputy Chief Fire Officer Rob Grant, took over running the brigade in July, the same month urban and rural fire organisations joined forces to become Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

The trucks in the station reflect that merge – the brigade’s Mitsubishi appliance in the traditional Fire Service red, and its new tanker, the first in New Zealand to be painted in the new FENZ colours.

Mr Usmar said the brigade could have up to 23 members, but was sitting on about 17, and with two or three on long-term leave, and two support staff only able to carry out limited operational duties, operational crew numbers were down to about 13.

“We could carry 10 more people easily.”

The brigade, like many in smaller areas, struggled with daytime coverage, he said.

“Like everybody else, that’s our biggest struggle, to man the trucks in the daytime. Just about everybody works out of town. Two drive for Fonterra, the deputy and I work for the Pareora [freezing] works – we’ve got people all over the place. Once everybody’s home at night, we’re fine.”

About half the brigade’s callouts are to vehicle crashes, of which there have been some significant ones in recent times. The remainder of calls are mostly to rural fires, but the brigade is also a co-responder to “purple calls” – heart and respiratory calls – with St John.

There is also fire prevention work.

“This year, we had a call, not long ago, to somebody wanting their heater unplugged, because they had left it on and gone to work.”

Did the brigade go and turn it off? “Yes, we did.”