Fire­fight­ers feel­ing the heat

Marlborough Midweek - - FRONT PAGE - PAULA HULBURT

A short­age of vol­un­teers means ex­hausted fire­fight­ers are be­ing pushed to the brink.

Blen­heim Vol­un­teer Fire Bri­gade is op­er­at­ing un­der ca­pac­ity - about 10 peo­ple short of op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments.

Chief Fire Of­fi­cer Nigel Botham is ap­peal­ing for peo­ple to come for­ward to help out as vol­un­teers, es­pe­cially in Blen­heim town cen­tre. The sta­tion cur­rently has 32 ac­tive mem­bers, a drop of 11 since this time last year.

The staffing short­age means ex­ist­ing vol­un­teers have to work even harder, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the day, he says.

‘‘As num­bers drop it does put pres­sure on ex­ist­ing mem­bers so it’s ob­vi­ously bet­ter if we op­er­ate at full ca­pac­ity.

Peo­ple mov­ing away or leav­ing be­cause of other com­mit­ments has seen vol­un­teer num­bers dwin­dle.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately, this has been one of the years where we have seen peo­ple move. It’s not like they hate the place or any­thing; they’re mov­ing-on for gen­uine rea­sons.

‘‘Our loss can of­ten be an­other re­gion’s gain as peo­ple move and vol­un­teer else­where,’’ he says.

Botham says fire­fight­ers have to be at the Blen­heim sta­tion within a few min­utes of their pagers go­ing off.

This can cause prob­lems, es­pe­cially when vol­un­teers live or work out­side Blen­heim.

‘‘We can ac­com­mo­date shift work­ers for ex­am­ple on a caseby-case ba­sis.

‘‘There’s real value to join­ing our fam­ily where you can learn some re­ally valu­able skills and get recog­nised for the ser­vice you do.

‘‘There are a cou­ple of vol­un­teers here com­ing up to get­ting their 25-year ser­vice medals but that’s a bit of a dy­ing breed and we’re lucky if we get five-years-plus out of some­one now.

‘‘Marl­bor­ough has quite a high per­cent­age of tran­sient work­ers,’’ he says.

Fire­fighter Jen­nifer Ruffell has been a vol­un­teer for 18 years and says the staffing deficit has af­fected ev­ery­one.

‘‘It puts a lot of pres­sure on vol­un­teers who be­come very tired, very quickly.

‘‘Em­ploy­ers are feel­ing the strain of let­ting them [vol­un­teers] go too.

‘‘It would be great to get some vol­un­teers who live or work just a few min­utes away from the sta- tion,’’ she says.

For the past two years, Blen­heim Vol­un­teer Fire Bri­gade have re­ceived about 500 calls a year.

There is no age limit on vol­un­teers but po­ten­tial can­di­dates should have a rea­son­able level of fit­ness and be in good health.

Ap­pli­cants will also have to go through po­lice checks and a health check.

‘‘We’re a close-knit team as we spend such a lot of time to­gether,’’ says Botham.

To find out more visit face­­un­teer­fire­bri­gade or con­tact Nigel Botham on: 027 344 6354. Train­ing takes place ev­ery Mon­day at the sta­tion and po­ten­tial vol­un­teers are wel­come.

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