Brigades out in force for safety exercise

The Sunday morning silence was shattered at 10am by the wailing of a fire alarm at Silver Fern Farms Finegand plant outside of Balclutha.

It was not signalling a major fire, but marking the culmination of three months' planning for a Fire and Emergency NZ annual brigade level training exercise for local volunteer brigades.

First on the scene was the SFF's own emergency response team, closely followed by three appliances from the Balclutha, Kaitangata and Kaka Point brigades, plus a Rural Fire tanker and Fenz support vehicle.

Kaitangata brigade senior station officer and exercise co-ordinator Anthony Dunne said the plan was to bring together all the local brigades to fight a notional fire somewhere deep inside the complex.

Firefighter Taine Michie, of Balclutha, carries hoses into the Silver Fern Farms Finegand plant...
Firefighter Taine Michie, of Balclutha, carries hoses into the Silver Fern Farms Finegand plant during the fire training exercise yesterday morning. Photos: John Cosgrove
"Today we brought together all three brigades plus the Silver Fern Farms ERT from Finegand to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each unit.

"The crews responded to the call-out and when they arrived found they were looking for three injured workers trapped in a smoke-filled section of the complex," he said.

Firefighters work out their plan of attack inside a smoke-filled room.
Firefighters work out their plan of attack inside a smoke-filled room.
The scenario for this exercise was that there was a smoke-engulfed room somewhere in the complex in which three persons had been reported missing.

Two of the missing were reportedly unconscious and one was in distress, in an area under construction and surrounded by multiple hazards.

But first the teams had to find the victims and the seat of the fire.

With the SFF ERT co-ordinating the search, teams scoured the building until the source of the blaze and the victims were found in a back room on the first floor.

The plant is not working due to seasonal and renovation requirements and it meant many dark and tiny areas had to be searched to locate the area where the internal alarm had gone off.

Clambering up and down narrow smoke filled stairwells, past numerous hazards, the crews eventually found the three victims and aided in their recovery, while fighting the "fire".

"The outcome today was really, really good as we had a great response from the teams.

"We intermingled the stations on to different appliances, so that we weren't all in our normal call-out teams and everyone had to learn to work with others of different skills levels," Mr Dunne said.

SFF's own emergency response team members Koban Katipa (left) and Kim Carruthers check the...
SFF's own emergency response team members Koban Katipa (left) and Kim Carruthers check the results of the first search of the building, who went in and who came out.
Silver Fern Farms Finegand health and safety manager Janine Dalley said it was a great exercise to undertake, especially as the large factory complex poses some very real hazards should a major fire break out.

"Our response team worked really well with the other brigades and everyone learned lessons from this, their annual fire training exercise.

"Despite some stumbling blocks, the crews eventually found everyone and put the fire out for a good end to the exercise," she said.

Mr Dunne said lessons were learned by all participants and the training notes will be reviewed over the coming weeks to see how they can fine-tune the skills at each brigade.

- By John Cosgrove

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