The PVFB FAQ
What is this?
This "FAQ" ('Frequently Asked Questions') guide answers some of the most commonly asked questions about our brigade, and about volunteer brigades generally. It's under development... more will be added very soon.
Plimmerton is a coastal town approximately 30km north of Wellington (New Zealand's capital city). We have a several neighbouring fire brigades, and we assist each other in dealing with major emergencies. Our fire district stretches from the Paremata road and rail bridges in the south to the northern side of Pukerua Bay.
What sort of emergencies are you
One of the most common misconceptions about the New Zealand Fire Service is that all we do is fight fires. These days, fire accounts for less than half of all callouts nationwide. Plimmerton VFB is no exception. Our district includes a particularly notorious stretch of State Highway One. We attend many serious accidents here, sadly often involving serious injury and death. We also turn out to medical calls with Wellington Free Ambulance to provide first-on-the-scene life support (several of our members are trained as 'medical co-responders'), and to many other types of emergencies including (recently) flooding, sinking boats & general rescue.
We do still get fires, of course. Though it has been over three years since the last fully-involved house fire in Plimmerton (which we credit to improved safety features in electrical appliances, better house design and the widespread use of smoke detectors... and good luck), we are kept in practice dealing with smaller fires in buildings, scrub fires, vehicle fires, gas leaks, illegal and dangerous fires on our beaches, and assisting other brigades with major incidents in their districts.
What is a "volunteer"
Quite simply, our firefighters are not paid anything. We train in weekends and evenings, and turn out from home or work by car to the station when an emergency is reported to our Welington control room (usually by the '111' system). We all carry pagers to alert us, which are supplimented by the station siren (pagers have proved a little unreliable in Plimmerton's hilly terrain, though we are optimistic that this may not be the case with the new pagers we are expecting any day now).
Once alerted, we wait at the station until enough firefighters are present for us to turn out (usually between four and six, including an officer and a driver/pump operator). Most of the time our fire appliance ("Plimmerton 351") is on the way to the emergency with a full crew, dressed in full protective clothing, within four minutes of the original "111" call - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are proud of this achievement, and of the service we provide to the Plimmerton community.
Who are the firefighters?
We are a mixed assortment of local people, including two electricians, two builders, a computer engineer, a picture framer, a documentary film maker, a saw miller and many others. We were originally drawn to the brigade by various things, most often friendships or family connections with other firefighters. We have each made a commitment to be available to attend emergencies, and to train on an at-least weekly basis to maintain our skills.
Several of our firefighters have many years of service, including two "Gold Star" medal recipients (25 years).
How are you organised?
The brigade is administered democratically, with elected officers taking charge at emergencies. A new member enters as a probationary firefighter (or more likely a cadet), then may be elected to full membership by the whole brigade. After completing their initial intensive training ('Phase One' and 'Phase Two', four days each) they enter full service as a Grade One firefighter. Through training and experience, they can move through to Grade Five (or 'Senior Firefighter'). After more experience at this level they are eligible to be elected as a Fire Officer, who is in charge at emergencies (and forms a part of every crew). There are about five officers in the brigade at any one time. Two of them are elected Chief Fire Officer and Deputy Chief Fire Officer (currently Mike Smith and Russell Postlethwaite respectively).
At any large emergency inside our fire district (see above) where other brigades might attend, the most senior Plimmerton officer present is in overall charge unless they choose to hand over control to a more senior officer from somewhere else. When we go outside our area, the reverse applies.
Who funds the brigade?
Since the Fire Service Act nationalised the service in 1975, our running costs have been the responsibility of the New Zealand Fire Service, who are in turn funded by the government from insurance levies.
We have in recent times experienced significant underfunding, resulting in various difficulties (including the serious deterioration of our station building). However, we are told that the Fire Service intends to properly fund volunteer brigades in future, which we hope will soon remedy these problems.
Over the years we have been assisted by local community organisations with particular projects, such as aquiring our generator. We are very grateful!
What equipment do you use?
We have one fire appliance, a diesel powered, manual transmission International. As well as 1200 litres of water, a pump and two high-pressure hose reels, we carry around 20x 25m lengths of hose, a portable 'floating' pump, two 'forestry pack' hose backpacks, foam producing equipment, four Breathing Apparatus sets ('BA'), full hydraulic vehicle extrication equipment ('jaws of life'), two ladders, tools, chemical-resistant 'splash suits', high-grade rescue lines (ropes), a full electricity generator and lighting plant, a large collection of maps and guides, a 'co-responder' medical kit, and a variety of other items. As you can imagine, this makes for a very full and very heavy truck!
All equipment is on a regular testing and maintenence schedule, as is the truck itself.
Is it dangerous to be a
New Zealand has one of the safest fire services in the world. Safety is a major part of our training, and is the first responsibility of officers at emergency scenes. Though there have been a number of very close calls around the country, no firefighters have been killed on duty in this country for several years.
No firefighters have ever been killed in our brigade's 59 year history, and the injuries our firefighters have suffered have been relatively minor (eg. lost finger, mild concussion etc). We remain very aware of the potential for danger, though. As volunteer workers we are not covered by the Health and Safety in Employment Act, but despite this the Fire Service are currenly embarking on a major H&S training programme that we will participate in.
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