Fire volunteers keep wheels turning

Although low in crew numbers and unable to hold training sessions, Manly’s volunteer fire brigade is in good heart and well set up to handle the current crisis, according to its chief fire officer Shayne Kennedy.

The service had to cancel its recruitment drive when the Covid-19 Level 3 Alert procedures came into force, as well as its regular training sessions and meetings.

“We are down to two crews, but the good thing about that is that we are limiting our exposure,” Shayne says. “Our numbers could be more, but if they were, we couldn’t use them anyway because of the protocols. We are only running four on the truck instead of five or six, and two on the medical response van and those watches are separate and do not intermingle. We have backups to drive the fire truck, if needed, so it is manageable.”

The Level 4 lockdown has meant less callouts overall, although calls to medical emergencies have remained reasonably constant.

“The last fire call was four or five days ago, and motor vehicle accidents are zero,” Shayne says.

He says on callouts the numbers of responders are kept to only what is needed – without putting anyone at risk.

“If we can handle it ourselves, we do,” he says.

He says there are a lot more protocols to follow about how the crews approach medical scenes, deal with patients and ensure that everything is clean.

“Volunteer firefighters take a change of clothes because if we come across a Covid-19 patient, we will not take the clothes we were wearing home,” he says.

The crew came across a suspected coronavirus case last weekend, but it turned out not to be Covid-19.

“All our protocols were in place and it was handled very well,” Shayne says.

As well as relying on Fire and Emergency NZ, and liaising closely with St John, the Manly brigade has set up a Covid-19 planning team to make sure volunteers are safe as well as developing its own pandemic procedure.

Shayne says keeping volunteers safe comes with an awareness that they go home to families, who need to be safe as well.

“Nothing happens on station now that will affect us in our ‘bubbles’. It’s a unique situation and a high trust model but everyone is buying into it very well. We have a video conference regularly with the whole brigade to make sure everyone is ok and have a laugh.”

“Everyone is doing what they need to, to get through this.”

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