After nearly 19 years in the New Zealand Fire Service, senior station officer Andrew Walker has no intention of leaving any time soon. “It’s a job for life,” he insists.
Originally from the Bay of Plenty, Andrew left school at 16 and went into forestry before later joining the army. “I’ve always quite liked uniform jobs, with the team work and camaraderie, which is why I enjoyed forestry and the army so much. I’m not really a 9 to 5 office-type person.”
Whilst in the army, Andrew graduated from Massey University with a management degree, which helped him to open an office supply business before he joined the fire service. Almost 19 years later, he is in charge of Brown Watch Wellington, the regional headquarters of the New Zealand Fire Service.
Like all firefighters, Andrew went through the application process and completed a combination of assignments, exams, theory and practical training at the National Training Centre in Rotorua in order to become qualified.
“It’s obviously important to be fit and strong, relative to your bodyweight, if you’re going to apply,” he says.
“There’s a saying that we like to use: ‘Proper preparation prevents poor performance’, so it’s important to get all the training processes done properly before going into the service.
“This might take a while, depending on the individual, but if you have reasonable academics, reasonable fitness, good determination and good health and you keep plugging away, you’ll make it.”
Andrew loves the fact that in the fire service every day is different, which provides the variety and flexibility that ensures there’s never a dull moment. “You get to make a difference in people’s lives and that’s an unbelievably good feeling. Just about everybody likes firefighters and when you’re driving down the street, people stop and wave to us and that’s pretty cool.”
Andrew has a very close relationship with his crew. “They are like family to me. You spend 40 hours a week working together – if we go for a drive, all of us go; if we train, all of us train. The ability to get on and mix with other people is really important.”
There are other characteristics that set firefighters apart from many other professions. It’s crucial to be calm under pressure and be willing and able to follow instructions without asking questions: something that is really valued in the service.
“[The job] can be very claustrophobic and noisy; in most house fires if you’ve got your hand in front of your face you won’t be able to see it, so you’ve got to be comfortable with heights, confined spaces, heat, and water.
“We’re all different people and so it’s important to really know your crew and know their strengths so you can make the best of their abilities. Everybody I know in the fire service thinks it’s the best job in the world and I agree one hundred per cent. We’re basically one big family – one that I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of.”