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Between 14 and 16 October, over 35 rural fire crews pit their skills against each other in a series of quirky and demanding exercises dotted around the South Canterbury beauty spot.

Date:  20 October 2010

October 2010 saw the eighth rural firefighter challenge which was held in picturesque Raincliff in South Canterbury.

Between 14 and 16 October, over 35 crews - representing 10 rural fire agencies (from as far afield as Renwick and Franz Josef) - pit their skills against each other in a series of quirky and demanding exercises dotted around the South Canterbury beauty spot.

Neil Frazer (left) and Kerry Munro from Selwyn District Council’s Lake Coleridge team, make a daring rescue during the house fire task. Photo: Mytchall Bransgrove.
Selwyn District Council’s Lake Coleridge

Department of Conservation senior fire officer, Tony Teeling, said the challenge was designed to further hone a co-ordinated response to emergency events - already tested during the earthquake.

“After those dramatic events, fire crews are well aware of just how important their role is in keeping communities safe,” Tony said.

He outlined that this year the pressure was on crews to stay at peak performance with weather projections for summer indicating the possibility of extremely dry conditions inland. Teeling also urged the public to do their bit in preparing for this possibility.

“With nerves still being jangled by aftershocks and the prospect of a long, hot La Nina summer producing tinder-dry conditions, the importance of being prepared for an emergency event is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.”

Soft sunshine kept spirits high amongst crews on the final day - made up entirely of volunteers.

At the 8am briefing, Incident Controller, Department of Conservation (DOC) Aoraki’s Richard MacNamara had strong praise for the firefighters. “I take my hat off to anyone who puts their hand up for emergency volunteer work.”

He explained the importance of the challenge in simulating the high-pressure and urgency of a real life event. “Your not gonna get a more competitive environment than when you guys are pitting yourselves against a fire. Here, instead of flames, you’ll be up against each other.”

Teams have been happily surprised by what their task masters had in store this year, despite being shot at with a paintball gun, having to save an unconscious lady from a burning car or making ‘river crossings’ using just two lengths of rope.

“We’ve loved it,” said Gemma White from Geraldine who competed on day one of the event. “It’s been great training as it’s the first time I’ve had to operate a pump by myself - and I did it!”

The Canterbury West Coast Regional Rural Fire Committee’s challenge has come to a close just in time for the committee to start planning for next year’s event.

South Canterbury Principle Rural Fire Offer Rob Hands is extremely impressed by what he’s seen over the three days but is keen to stress to the public that their safety is also in their own hands.

“It looks set to get hot inland this summer but fire prevention is not rocket science. Those living inland need to protect their homes and families; cut back vegetation, clean out your gutters, stack wood away from your houses, clear access for emergency services and have an evacuation plan!”

“The exercise has been a fantastic success - there’s no doubting that. I only hope these firefighters don’t need to put what they’ve learnt to use this summer. I want to see people preventing fires - that means all of us - not putting them out.”

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