Archives For Firefighting

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Norm Thornley, Geospatial Services Manager.

At work

Norm Thornley and Dave Hunt in Karori Park checking a stoat trap.

Norm (kneeling) with Dave Hunt, checking a stoat trap

Some things I do in my job include:

Leading a team of geospatial professionals who provide a service right across DOC.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Providing the mapping and spatial analysis for everything—from marine protection to alpine avalanche prediction and wildfire modelling, to mention but a few.

The best bit about my job is:

The variety of the work, the professionalism of the team, and being able to contribute to conservation in a meaningful way.

The scariest DOC moment I’ve had so far was:

While on the fire line in Victoria—running to escape a burn over when a back burn breached a control on a track later name Kiwi Bacon Ridge.

Norm Thornley lighting a  controlled back burn in Victoria, Australia.

Lighting a back burn as part of a DOC deployment to Victoria

The DOC employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

There are quite a few, but the ones that immediately spring to mind are Sandra Parkkali, Rene Duindam, and Martin Slimin. Their tenacity and dedication to DOC’s goals are an example to us all.

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that:

I flew in an air force Orion out of Dunedin on a coastal surveillance mission for DOC. The object of the exercise was to capture aerial imagery of the Chatham Islands. When we got there, however, the only part that wasn’t covered in cloud was the lagoon.

My best ever holiday was:

Spending five weeks driving around Europe with Anne and our two daughters. We came away with a much better appreciation of how unique and special New Zealand is, and how privileged we are to live here.

Norm Thornley with family and friends waiting for the Motatapu mountain bike event to start.

Norm (far left), with family and friends, at the Motatapu mountain bike event

My greatest sporting moment was when:

I crossed the finish line after completing the Kepler Challenge back in 2001 with my best mate Chris.

The thing I’m most looking forward to in the next 6 months is: 

First, my daughter’s wedding, in late October. Then, in December, it’s up Arthur’s Pass to help Chris celebrate moving into his next decade.

Norm, Anne and Chris looking out of the DOC Collingwood Batch.

Looking out of the DOC Collingwood Batch

If I could be any New Zealand native species I’d be: 

A kea. I really love seeing the mischief they get up to and their seemingly carefree enjoyment of life.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

Winston Churchill, speaking about the battle of Britain fighter pilots and crews: “never before have so many owed so much to so few”.

Norm, Anne and Chris at the start of the Queen Charlotte Track.

Anne, Chris and Norm, ready to start a ride on the Queen Charlotte Track

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is: 

There are two ways you can read a rule book: The negative way, where if doesn’t say ‘you can’ then you can’t; or the positive way, where if doesn’t say ‘you can’t’ then you can.

In work and life I am motivated by:

Our beautiful country and the contribution working for DOC enables me to make to improving and protecting all the things I value.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is: 

Join a local conservation group. I belong to a predator trapping group, and checking the traps takes an hour and a half a month—a small price for enhancing the bird life and halo around Zealandia.

The DOC southern team during the Charleston underworld caving experience.

The DOC southern team taking the Charleston underworld caving experience

Question of the week…

Pick a scar you got in childhood and tell the story of how you got it:

That will be the tip of my right hand ring finger, which I lost to a water pump belt pulley when I was three.

Eight DOC staff are currently in Australia helping with the bush fires. You can read updates from John Barnes, Manager Rural Fire in Christchurch, below.

The DOC firefighting crew with a couple of Tasmanian mates that have been working with them.

The DOC firefighting crew with a couple of Tasmanian mates that have been working with them

Thursday 10 January

Just to let you know we all arrived safely in Hobart at 2130 hours last night. We were met by Tony Blanks from Tasmania Forestry who has worked with many of us in the past. Tony was meant to have retired over New Year but has remained on in the mean time to help out with the fires.

Our two flights over from New Zealand were very interesting. The crews and passengers picked up very quickly that we were heading over to help the Tasmanians. On both planes we received  loud cheers and clapping from the captain, crew and passengers.

We are heading to the Forestry offices this morning for a briefing with Tony. At this stage it looks like the two New Zealand crews may be working in different areas. I will report back on that later.

Tony was saying there are no rentals available in Tasmania as the fire cut the main highway and cars were left abandoned and a lot of tourists were taken back to their ship by another means. We are getting a number of retired 4×4 for transport; some may be missing a few things but are road worthy.

Clinton Lyall hard at it with a McLeod Tool.

Clinton Lyall hard at it with a McLeod Tool

Friday 11 January

The two New Zealand Response Teams from Northland (made of DOC staff) and Nelson (two out of six are DOC staff) have been deployed to two separate fires and will be starting their first day this Friday. The team from Nelson including Dave Newton (Crew Leader) and fire-fighters Aston Oliver, Stuart Saunders, Stephen Wilkins, Matthew Page and William Franklin are deployed to the ongoing fire at Lake Repulse approx 1.5 hrs North West of Hobart. This fire is a threat to the National Park at Mt Field and has burnt through approx 11,000 ha. The crew will be working with chainsaws, handtools and pumps and hoses in very steep rocky and broken country where machinery can’t access. They are staying at a homestead.

Matiu Mataira taking a break.

Matiu Mataira taking a break

The Northland Team of Glen Coulston (Crew Leader) and fire fighters Clinton Lyall, Matiu Mataira, Paul Cornille, Clea Gardner and James McLaughlin have been deployed to the Montumoa Fire in the North West. This is an ongoing fire that has burnt through approx 3000 ha. They are presently staying in motels in the NW at Burnie. They will be deployed to the fire early Friday.The teams have been given the name of unusual name of RATS–(Response Attack Teams) by some of the Tasmanian fire fighting personnel.

Sunday 13 January

I’m presently up in Burnie (excuse the pun) in the north of Tasmania with the Northland Rapid Attack Team (RATS) with Glen Coulston (Crew Leader) and fire fighters Clinton Lyall, Matiu Mataira, Paul Cornille, Clea Gardner and James McLaughlin. We are staying at the Seabrook Hotel in units close to the beach.

A friendly frog.

A friendly frog

One or two of the crew have been taking a dip in the sea each morning – the sea temp is apparently very cold. The hotel staff have really gone out of their way to accommodate the crew and look after them. While we were having breakfast this morning there was a loud roar and the hotel shook. It has been confirmed it was an earthquake (something the locals say never happens here).

I managed to drive up some steep firebreaks and tracks to meet up with the crew yesterday at the Speedwell Fire. They were working very high up in the hills dealing to spot fires that are still burning in bush. Helicopters were also being used by the crew to drop water from Bambi Buckets on to the hotspots.

The prevention measures to take when working around snakes.

The prevention measures to take when working around snakes

The team from Nelson including Dave Newton (Crew Leader) and fire-fighters Aston Oliver, Stuart Saunders, Stephen Wilkins, Matthew Page and William Franklin have been redeployed from the Repulse fire to the Fawcet Fire located near Hobart out on the Peninsula towards Port Arthur. They will be working in very tall timber that has a heavy understory of scrub. They have managed to score an equipment trailer to carry all their gear on. They are staying at some motels near the beach front at Cambridge that has a great view and reminds them of home. I hope to catch up again with Dave and his crew in the next couple of days and get some photos to send back to New Zealand.

Regarding the arrangements over the next few days it is proposed that both crews will travel to Hobart on Tuesday and have Wednesday as a day off. Another weather event that may have an impact on the fire is expected around Thursday next week. The two teams are expected to be in Hobart during this period. It will then be easier to deploy them to any fresh outbreaks of fires.

A couple of the Northland crew taking a break.

A couple of the Northland crew taking a break

Tuesday 15 January

Both Kiwi “RATs” are working on the Repulse Fire today and after their shift they will be heading to Hobart for a break on Wednesday and possibly Thursday. They will be staying at Rydges Hotel for the next couple of nights. I met up with the Mayor of Hamilton yesterday at the staging area for the Repulse Fire. She has asked me to pass on the thanks of the local community for the assistance and hard work the Kiwi teams have been involved at.

I have arranged for their washing to be picked up tomorrow morning and returned tomorrow night; they are possibly starting to smell a bit by now. Forestry Tasmania are also arranging for a meal tomorrow night for the two crews where we can all dine together and meet up with New Zealand National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield and Forest Fire Management officer with Forestry Tasmania Tony Blanks.

There has been some good feedback from the Incident Management Teams on the work carried out by the two Kiwi teams. Apparently our teams are doing the work that has been planned for them in half the time required.

There is a chance they may have to go back to work this Thursday. This is very dependent on the weather event that is forecasted to come through on Thursday. At this stage weather indicators are showing it may be not as bad as first thought however, the crews will need to be ready for any breakout of fire or any new fire incidents.

When I meet up with the two Kiwi teams tomorrow I hope to get some more photos from them to be included with the updates.

Dave Newton's fire crew in action.

Dave Newton’s fire crew in action

Thursday 17 January

Both Kiwi “RATs” are heading back to the Repulse Fire today after a much needed break. They managed to get their washing done and to also have a look around some of the tourist sites in greater Hobart. Dave Newton receives the award for the day for leaving his camera in his overalls that went to the laundry. Not sure whether it still works but managed to get the card out of it okay.

Tony Blanks Tasmanian Forestry hosted us all for the night along with National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield and a couple of retired Tasmanians who were part of the first deployment to the United States – Dick Chuter from Parks and Wildlife and Tony Davidson from Tasmanian Fire Service.

It was great to catch with some of our old mates.

Today is meant to be a lot warmer and windy but fire dangers are not expected to get to the highs of a couple of weeks ago.

Murray and I are to meet up with a TV crew from New Zealand (Campbell Live show) today. They are to do a story on the Kiwi crew’s deployment.

At this stage it is planned for the crews to return to Hobart next Tuesday for a debrief and then return home to New Zealand next Wednesday 23 Jan 2013.

Our firefighters are looking in pretty good condition after some very hard and arduous work after their first week in Tasmania. They do have a few cuts and bruises. We and the Tasmanians are very proud of them.

Dave Newton's fire crew in action

Dave Newton’s fire crew in action.

See updates from the National Rural Fire Authority here.