Tim Morris - Feeling the Heat

Tim Morris - Feeling the Heat

You may have heard someone at work or in passing mention that they’re “feeling the heat”. When it comes to Tonkin + Taylor’s Tim Morris however, “feeling the heat” takes on a whole different meaning. A volunteer fire-fighter for the West Melton Volunteer Rural Fire Force, we had a chat to Tim about his work with the West Melton crew, the challenges of being a volunteer firefighter, and the parallels between engineering and firefighting.

What do you do at T+T? 

I’m a Senior Civil and Water Resource Engineer, Technical Director and Project Director. One of four Design Managers at the NCTIR project office just at the moment (South Zone).

Of all the things in the world to choose - why fire-fighting? 

It’s an opportunity to give something back to the community. The West Melton Fire Station is just down the road from my house. When we moved to West Melton and before I joined, I always wondered what happened when the siren went up.

Training to join Rural Fire takes dedication and time, how have T+T helped support you with your voluntary service?

T+T necessarily comes first. T+T provided some time off to attend the Port Hills fire in Feb. 2017 and also an upcoming FENZ workshop.

What is training like? 

Training is ongoing and you need to maintain proficiency over a wide range of skills. Work on the fireground can be physically demanding – you need to be fit. It’s also important to be able to think ahead, recognise and very quickly anticipate and deal with hazardous situations e.g. changes in wind, topography, power/electricity, hazardous substances.

Take us through a typical volunteer schedule. 

Training happens on a Wednesday evening and one Sunday morning every month, with the odd course here and there. Training includes things like first aid, working with helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, 4WDs (trucks, tankers and utes), navigation, fire lines (mostly hand tools), different kinds of pumps, use of water and additives, fire behaviour, health and safety, different tactics to respond to different fire situations (availability of water, constraints on resources, fuel type, topography), chainsaws, leadership, radios, structure external attack, traffic control, drip torches and emergency response driving. I had to get a Class 2 license. Of course, there’s attendance at calls, that’s if you’re handy to the station when the siren goes off. On average I normally make it to about 40 calls a year. In our biggest year, West Melton attended about 120 incidents. Canterbury is prone to vegetation fires during the summer months, particularly in nor’west conditions. Summer is fire season and the busy period for the West Melton Crew. There is a good chance the siren will go off later in the afternoon on a hot windy summer day.  It can be quiet during winter. Fire and Emergency have Rural and Urban resources, and rural fire forces such as West Melton specialise in response to vegetation fires. Vegetation/wildland fires can be fast moving, so they’re very different than structure fires in that respect, and require a specialist response. Urban brigades often struggle because these sorts of fires move. We also take part in competitions and regional fire exercises.

Are there any parallels you’ve noticed between being an engineer and a volunteer firefighter?

There are some familiar aspects - not rushing into things, the importance of a good work brief, understanding risks, health and safety (albeit at another level). A lot of the management ideas are very similar. Obviously, aspects of hydraulic engineering are relevant to an extent, things like pumps, friction loss and hydraulic grade line. Engineering came in handy when we designed our new station.

What are the challenges of being a volunteer firefighter? 

The siren can go off at any time. Some calls may only take minutes whereas big fires can go for days. Often when you go to a call, you don’t know how long you could be there and that can be problematic for the family. All incidents are different although there are general principles that need to be applied to each unique event. There was a large fire on Christmas Day last year although we were out of town so I didn’t go – a lot of guys ended up spending a lot of holiday time at the fire. Night shift can be a challenge.

What’s the most interesting story you have with Rural Fire? 

The February 2017 Port Hills fire was memorable, also some large fire at the West Melton Army Range. A range of other calls include lots of small vegetation fires, stolen cars dumped by the river bed and set on fire, a couple of house fires, several decent sized shed fires, MVAs from time to time, and a couple of animal rescues. One of these was rescuing a horse stuck in the local water race.

How can I volunteer for Fire and Emergency New Zealand?

Contact your local fire crew – rural fire force or urban brigade.