Crew trained for precarious rescues

They clamber down banks, buildings and cliffs to rescue people from hard-to-get-to places. But few people know about the Dunedin fire lines rescue crew. Daisy Hudson headed along to a training session to find out more.

Dangling precariously in mid-air, attached to the side of a building by just a few ropes, Joe Begley checks the large stretcher hanging beside him.

Satisfied with it, the senior firefighter gives the OK to his crew mates above, who lower him carefully into a large concrete chimney stack below.

Minutes later he emerges again, this time with his patient securely strapped into the stretcher.

Dunedin senior firefighter Joe Begley is lowered from a silo at the former Cadbury premises...
Dunedin senior firefighter Joe Begley is lowered from a silo at the former Cadbury premises during a training session. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

While it sounds like something out of a movie, it was actually a training session for the Dunedin lines rescue crew at the former Cadbury factory.

The 18-strong level three rescue crew, comprised of Dunedin firefighters, are called upon for tricky rescues such as people stuck down cliffs, or industrial rescues.

Crew member and Dunedin station officer Blair Harcus said 106 firefighters in town were level two rescue members, which meant, for example, they could go to a job where there was a person down a cliff, stabilise them and see how they were, and if they needed to be lifted out the level three team would be called in.

Dunedin senior firefighter Joe Begley prepares to extricate himself and his ‘‘patient’’, station...
Dunedin senior firefighter Joe Begley prepares to extricate himself and his ‘‘patient’’, station officer Kelvin Harradine, from a chimney stack during training at the former Cadbury premises. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
A recent example was a rescue at Cannibal Bay in the Catlins on New Year’s Eve.

"The rescue chopper went down first and realised they were at risk of blowing the person off the cliff, so in the meantime we responded from here,’’ Mr Harcus said.

"We went down, dropped all our gear off, and we had him off the side of the cliff in about 20 minutes in a really safe, controlled way."

Lines crew members were also involved in the high-profile rescue of a German tourist at Tunnel Beach in November 2018.

"The heli couldn’t land, so they had to carry her all the way back up."

They were one of the city’s most low-key rescue crews, and Mr Harcus said they wanted to raise awareness so they could be utilised more if needed.

"Because we’ve got people on stand-by all the time, we can respond quickly."

While they were not called out frequently, there was still a big training element that was necessary to ensure they were ready to go when called upon.

Firstly, to become part of the level three team there was a week-long training course that needed to be completed.

Then there were monthly training sessions, where they practised on everything from the tower at the central fire station to Forsyth Barr Stadium and Lawyers Head.

They also work closely with police, and have a good relationship with rescue helicopter staff to ensure they can get where they need to go quickly.

Mr Harcus had been part of the team for about three years.

"It’s sort of a new development, everyone’s gone through the level two stage but we said ‘we actually need a better capability’.

"This is around the country now. There’s a team in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland, and they’re ready to go at any time."


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