Manfeild a hot spot for fire competition
MANFEILD is about to feel the heat of a major fire call-out with likelihood of a dozen engines and 90 fire fighters in attendance – but there’s no call for alarm.
The August 11-12 occasion is purely a drill, being an annual United Fire Brigades’ Association competition that tests driving skills.
The fiercely-contested event will this year draw entrants from Kaitaia at the top of the North Island to the Southland township of Wyndham, representing 53 brigades, the majority being volunteer personnel.
Opportunity to be named the country’s best fire engine driver certainly gets them all fired up, UFBA Events Co-ordinator Kirsten Bolton says.
Yet regardless that much action occurs on one of the country’s fastest circuits, the impression of seeing tenders racing at pace with lights blazing and sirens wailing is not to going realise during the practical phase.
This is a test of manoeuvring dexterity, not outright speed, she says. The challenges are replication of a call-out in an urban scenario, specifically designed to replicate day to-day manoeuvres of the appliance, so it’s at that level of pace.
“There are penalties for going too slow – that’s anything under 45kmh – and for going too fast, which is over 55kmh. It’s all very much road speed aimed and mimicking the road environment.”
That doesn’t mean a lack of excitement.
“It’s amazing how these guys and girls throw the appliances around the track. These are big, heavy vehicles and to see the manoeuvrability they achieve is quite something.”
This side of the practical evaluation occurs on Friday, August 11. The public is welcome to watch – from designated safe viewing points – as the drivers thread through shrinking chicanes and undertake deft lane changes. Next day the tempo changes, with new challenges of precision in parallel and bay parking and foot-to-the-floor emergency braking.
The event kicks off on previous afternoon with a pre-drive test—a short driving competency test serving as a familiarisation with the appliances alongside a qualified Fire and Emergency NZ driving instructor.
Competitors then sit a written theory test in a classroom setting which is based on the Heavy Traffic Class 2 road code and other fire ground practices.
This is scored with the points contributing to overall scores and placings.
The majority of this year’s turn-out have contested previously, but not all – the entry includes 23 first-timers, nine of them females.
Being fresh to the scene is not necessarily a disadvantage, Ms Bolton says.
“We do have a specific Rookie category but there has already been an occasion when a newbie has taken out the top title as well. You can imagine that those achievements bring quite significant bragging rights.”
In addition, there’s a Team Aggregate category for teams of three to five members from within the same brigade. The top three placing team members’ aggregate overall penalties are calculated to determine placings for this category.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand runs a variety of tender types but every effort is made to ensure an even playing field in terms of vehicle selection so, again, all drivers should have common level familiarity.
Even so, as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect, and she says the drivers with the best chance are generally those who have put in the most preparatory wheel time leading into competition weekend.
“There’s a national challenge medal and five trophies to compete for and they are all highly sought after … a fair few competitors will have put many hours’ of training into this challenge.”
It’s perhaps a reflection of the high level of national professionalism that the Association achieves that the awards have always been evenly spread, with no one region showing itself to be above any other.
“It’s really surprising. Likewise, with this being an event that has a high level of new competitors every year, the likelihood of there being a repeat winner is not guaranteed by any means. Anything goes.”
Friday is the best day for public viewing, she suggests. “Saturday has more of a technical focus so it has a slower, more precise feel.”
Manfeild has hosted previous UFBA competitions and all have provided fascinating insight into the proficiency and professionalism of New Zealand’s fire fighters, venue chief executive Julie Keane says.
“We’re delighted that our facility is perfectly-suited to meet the diverse requirements of this event and, of course, honoured that we are able to support a vital emergency service in this way.”