Huge jump in Arrowtown Fire Brigade medical callouts

3 minutes read
Posted 22 May, 2024
Members of the Arrowtown Volunteer Fire Brigade outside their station 1

Members of the Arrowtown Volunteer Fire Brigade outside their station

The Arrowtown Volunteer Fire Brigade’s specially trained medic team responded to 60% more medical emergencies, compared with the same period last year, amid a significant jump in callout rates.


The brigade’s Medical First Responders raced to 59 medical callouts as they covered for busy St John Ambulance staff during that period, up from 37 during the same four months last year.

The Arrowtown Brigade responded to 100 callouts across all categories during that four-month period, up 50% from 68 last year, those figures greatly bolstered by the 59 medical callouts.

In comparison, brigade crews had attended 12 vehicle accidents by the end of April, up from 10 for that period last year.

Vegetation fires were up from eight to 10. The brigade hadn’t attended any house fires in the Arrowtown area by the end of April compared with three in that period last year.

Since 2017 the Arrowtown Brigade’s specially trained medic crews have attended 405 emergency callouts.

In 2014 a special Memorandum of Understanding agreement was set up between St John and Fire and Emergency New Zealand certifying the Arrowtown Brigade medics to respond to medical callouts at the request of St John.

The stats since 2017 show medical callouts far outnumber other Arrowtown Brigade callouts. The brigade has attended 191 vehicle accidents, 110 vegetation fires, 41 structure fires, 80 ‘other fires’, 33 rescues, and 232 false alarms in that time.

Under the arrangement with St John the brigade attended a total 55 medical emergencies in 2022, and that jumped by 73% to 95 for last year. That’s three times the 33 Arrowtown medical callouts they did in 2017.

Last year was the busiest year for the brigade with the number of Arrowtown callouts for 2023 at 206, compared with 132 for 2022.and 180 in 2019. They’ve attended 1145 callouts of all natures since 2017, clocking up thousands of volunteer hours.

FENZ Assistant Commander for Queenstown Lakes Nic McQuillan says the special medic-approved fire crews mostly attend cardiac and respiratory arrests, and other medical events like seizures and strokes, that appear immediately life threatening.

He concedes it’s a big ask for those volunteers who’ve put their hands up to take on that extra load and it’s immensely appreciated. The volunteers – a few experienced paramedics-turned firefighting volunteers among them, have all undergone 50 hours of extra specialist training with six-monthly updates, in addition to the intense FENZ training for standard volunteer firefighters.

“They do an outstanding job for the community in Arrowtown and they’re all really proud of the service they provide,” McQuillan says. Brigade members are free to opt in or out of the medical response team.

Full physical and psychological support is offered for any who need that. “We cannot express enough just how much we appreciate these people. It’s just awesome what they’re prepared to do.”

McQuillan concedes there’s been a big jump in numbers, and he can’t explain why, but can only assume that may be down to population growth in the area.

FENZ Specialist Response Manager Aaron Waterreus says population increases anywhere in the country result in more callouts. “Population increase also brings with it a larger pool of people who are willing to volunteer in the community, many of whom come to the local fire brigade.”

Arrowtown is one of 56 specially trained Medical First Response Brigades in the country, the closest being Omakau, Milford Sound and Omarama. These higher medically trained firefighters provide emergency care until an ambulance can get there.

St John sends medic firefighters to serious events which don’t appear to be immediately life threatening but where the dispatchers believe the skillset and presence of a Medical First Response Brigade would benefit the patient, Waterreus says. This enables them to respond to medical calls where they arrive ahead of an ambulance and where their skills have a positive influence on patient outcomes, he says.

“Our firefighters do a remarkable job, making a significant contribution to their communities,” Wattereus says. Fire and Emergency acknowledges the commitment and sacrifice of the volunteers and their supporters.

Hato Hone St John General Manager Ambulance Operations Stuart Cockburn says they value the support of the Arrowtown Brigade’s medic volunteers, many of whom also volunteer for St John. “Hato Hone St John has a good relationship with FENZ and both organisations meet regularly to discuss how best to support each other.” 

St John responded to a total 882 medical-related callouts across the Queenstown and Arrowtown district in the first four months of this year, Cockburn says.

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