Volunteer Fire Force

Have you ever wondered what happens when there is a fire on Kawau Island? After all, it’s not as though the local fire station can send one or two fire engines up the road to put out the blaze.

The solution to this problem lies in our own Kawau Island Volunteer Rural Fire Force.

Manned entirely by local volunteers, the force in its current incarnation was formed in 1997 as a co-operative effort between the Department of Conversation and local residents. (The department is responsible for fire control on the island.) With an initial crew of approximately 7 volunteers (ranging in age from 14 to 60) plus department staff when required and using their own boats for transport, this initially untrained group set about learning how to fight fires on the island. (Where there are virtually no roads and the logistics of getting crew and equipment to a fire are very different to that applying on the mainland)

Some gear in the form of pumps, hoses, hand tools etc. was provided by the department, while funds raised by the small group were used to purchase: protective clothing, helmets, boots and other items needed for fire fighting purposes.

Initial training was provided by Andrew Young and Nobbie Reekie from the Conversation Department and this included both practical activities such as using fire pumps and hoses, as well as the theoretical training required to meet the various pieces of legislation relating to fire fighting in New Zealand.

During this period, a number of fire call-outs provided some very rapid on the job training for the new recruits. Fortunately, they were successful in each instance in putting out the fires.

In the second year of its existence, ladies were allowed to join the brigade resulting in an immediate swelling of the numbers and an increase in their ability to handle call-outs. (They undergo the same training as the men and, as with the men, capably fill the rolls which are best suited to each individual)

Over the ensuing years, the force gained expertise and experience and by dint of some creative fund raising, managed to increase its level of equipment and to establish satellite gear depots in various parts of the island. The latter meant that initial response times were very usefully cut. The force also became involved in an education program aimed at all locals in an effort to both promote fire prevention measures and to encourage the fitting of proper fire fittings to all water tanks.

In 2003 the force went through a metamorphosis when it was decided to include first aid services in its activities. Excellent training was provided by St John and other paramedical organizations and this has now extended to a high level of First Response capability existing within the force. This expansion required the purchase of more specialized equipment and again funds were raised in a number of ways.

Over the last couple of years, the organisation has had the advantage of the involvement of the Rodney District Council in its activities including a very welcome annual grant from the Council, as well as the provision of much needed equipment. The number of volunteers involved has increased considerably and the force now benefits from the very able leadership and unstinting efforts of professional fire fighter Martin Duytshoff.

With the provision of modern VHF radios and personal pagers, there is now an active and efficient network of fire fighting and first response volunteers in most parts of the island. This group is on call at all times for call-outs to any emergency that occurs on Kawau Island.

Fire is a major risk on Kawau Island and the existence and expertise of the Volunteer Fire Force goes some way towards coping with that risk. Any assistance by way of donations or new members is much appreciated. Please help if you can.