Hon­ing skills at fire­fighter chal­lenge

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - HELENA O'NEILL

Im­prov­ing skills in a com­pet­i­tive at­mos­phere was the aim of the game at the an­nual Ru­ral Fire Chal­lenge at Cas­tle Hill this year.

About 80 ru­ral fire­fight­ers from across Can­ter­bury put their skills to the test in the three-day event from Septem­ber 22 to 24.

Elisa Kar­wowski, of the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DOC), came from the North Is­land to com­pete with a Christchurch-based team.

‘‘It’s a great way to build up skills, and a good re­fresher go­ing into the fire sea­son. We wouldn’t get a chal­lenge like this in the North Is­land – this is far more ex­ten­sive.’’

Teams com­peted in 13 tasks, in­clud­ing ’’hot spot­ting’’ with a heli­copter, work­ing with heavy ma­chin­ery, and a ‘‘su­per task’’ with 70-odd peo­ple.

Event man­ager Darrin Woods was thrilled with this year’s chal­lenge, re­ceiv­ing only pos­i­tive feed­back from man­age­ment and com­peti­tors.

‘‘It’s about multi-agency col­lab­o­ra­tion, de­vel­op­ing ef­fec­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ships, and emer­gency man­age­ment ser­vices.’’

While hailed as a valu­able train­ing ex­er­cise, the chal­lenge’s fu­ture is a lit­tle un­cer­tain with a ma­jor over­haul of the coun­try’s fire ser­vices set to come into ef­fect from July 1 next year.

The New Zealand Fire Ser­vice, mainly re­spon­si­ble for urban parts of the coun­try, will merge with the Na­tional Ru­ral Fire Au­thor­ity and more than 40 other ru­ral fire ser­vices to cre­ate a sin­gle or­gan­i­sa­tion – Fire and Emer­gency New Zealand.

Woods hoped the merger would not ef­fect the chal­lenge – which has been run­ning for 16 years – and that it would only con­tinue to im­prove over the com­ing years.

Na­tional Ru­ral Fire Au­thor­ity ru­ral fire train­ing man­ager Tony Roddan at­tended the chal­lenge for the first time.

‘‘It was a lot more than I ex­pected. I’m re­ally, re­ally im­pressed with the qual­ity of the event.’’

The na­tional au­thor­ity was not in­volved in the or­gan­is­ing of the event, but sup­ported it, he said.

‘‘I think there’s great po­ten­tial for this [type of] event to run across the coun­try.’’

Ru­ral fire­fight­ers from a range of or­gan­i­sa­tions across Can­ter­bury took part in the event, with a mem­ber of the Otago Ru­ral Fire Au­thor­ity com­ing from Oa­maru.

The chal­lenge was con­ducted on con­ser­va­tion and pri­vate land.

HELENA O’NEILL/ FAIRFAX NZ

A DOC crew mem­ber ex­tin­guishes a fire dur­ing the chal­lenge.

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