Jailed arsonist's parents are senior firefighters

Andrew Lee Searle has been jailed for arson for lighting 10 fires in the Kaipara. Photo: via NZ...
Andrew Lee Searle has been jailed for arson for lighting 10 fires in the Kaipara. Photo: via NZ Herald

A volunteer firefighter jailed for lighting 10 fires in Northland is the son of two senior fire officers.

Andrew Lee Searle (23) was a member of the Te Kopuru Volunteer Fire brigade when he started lighting fires over the course of nearly three years which cost the Department of Conservation a total of $587,102 to extinguish and caused a projected loss in forestry earnings of $1.4 million.

In the Whangārei District Court last week, Searle was sentenced by Judge John McDonald to four years and seven months in prison.

In a written statement, Whangārei/Kaipara area manager Brad Mosby said a review would be carried out in light of the court case.

Searle's mother Barbara is now the brigade's chief fire officer and his father Darren is the senior station officer.

Barbara Searle declined to comment saying all communications about the brigade had to go through Mosby at Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

Mosby did not answer questions specifically relating to Fire and Emergency New Zealand's view on the Searles holding senior positions in the brigade, when they had taken up those roles, or if the community could have confidence in the Searles holding those positions.

"If specific concerns are raised about our personnel we either investigate them ourselves or refer them to the appropriate authorities.

"No specific issues have been brought to our attention about other members of the Te Kopuru Volunteer Brigade that warrant investigation," Mosby said.

He said FENZ valued the trust communities placed in the service, which was essential for the success of their work.

"On the rare occasions when individual members of our brigades get convicted, it can obviously impact on that trust.

"We hope that our communities appreciate the work we do and recognise that the actions of a very small number of individuals aren't representative of the vast majority of our personnel."

He was not aware of any previous incidents of arson by personnel in Northland, however he did not keep centralised records of convictions.

All volunteers wanting to be part of a brigade were required to undergo security checks, including police vetting.

"There are about 11,000 volunteers across the country who make significant sacrifices and devote a lot in service to their communities.

"It is extremely rare for members of our personnel to be involved in behaviour of this nature.

"When it does happen, it is very disappointing and there is a sense that these individuals have let the team down."

- Northern Advocate

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