Firefighting duo ignited by burning desire to make a difference

15 November 2023 | News

Lincoln students Ben Chambers and Hamish Goatley are both driven to help others, whether it be to escape a burning building or to improve agricultural business when they graduate.

Hamish, left, and Ben, on campus.

They were both given Gold Awards recently, which recognise student contribution to the community, for their work with the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Brigade.

The pair balance their studies with training and responding to callouts to fires, accidents and other emergencies and even compete together in regional, South Island and national firefighter competitions.

Ben and Hamish have both followed family members into the fire service.

Ben grew up in Geraldine in a "fire brigade family".

"My father and grandfather were long-serving volunteers for their communities, so I was often helping out on station where I could.

"I joined the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Brigade in 2021 to help make a difference in the local community," he said.

The Lincoln Brigade, like many volunteer stations around New Zealand, struggles for numbers during the daytime. Being a student at university means if not in a lecture or lab I can respond at a moment’s notice.

Ben said the time commitments for being a volunteer firefighter were "significant", with two-to-three-hour weekly trainings. And with callouts happening at any time of the day or night, or multiple calls in one day, commitments can range from two hours to upwards of 30 hours per week.

Hamish began firefighting in 2017 at the age of 16, in the Mataura Brigade near his hometown of Gore.

I was inspired to join the brigade after seeing my father be a part of it for 13 years, and recognising the difference he was able to make in that environment.

He transferred to the Lincoln brigade when he started his studies, but is still a member of the Mataura unit, where he learnt a lot of his skills.

Hamish said balancing his studies and the time commitment of the brigade was "an ongoing battle".

"I attempt as much as possible to keep ahead of work in case the siren goes. However, when I have been snowed under with work, there has been an understanding and the ability to go on leave to manage the workload better."

Overall, he said, it had worked well.

Ben said he really enjoyed being there for people in their time of need and helping them through a difficult situation left a very positive and humbling indelible mark with him.

"It reaffirms why I choose to volunteer my time to help others.

"At the core of what firefighters do is fight fire, so seeing a roaring fire and fighting it up close and personal is a real adrenaline rush that stays with you, just like working with five other people on the truck to solve sometimes very challenging and complex puzzles in order to work out the best possible outcome for patients, compromised structures or cars, or even ducklings.

"However, there are components of firefighting that make the job tough, such as experiencing first-hand the damage that distracted and intoxicated drivers cause to others on the road, medical emergencies, and dealing with fatalities.

"Although there are tough components of this job, being a part of a tight-knit team that looks out for one another makes it much easier to deal with the tough parts, as you deal with it as a team,” Ben said.

For Hamish, the best part of the role was meeting great like-minded people from around New Zealand in different courses and competitions.

"I also enjoy making a positive difference in other people’s lives in their hour of need and helping them through what is usually one of the most challenging days of their lives.

"Some of the problematic parts are what you are exposed to, the follow-on effects that you see with the family, and what you experience yourself. However, there is a very supportive brigade environment in Mataura and Lincoln, and additional counselling if required. With this additional support, the job is more than achievable."

Ben’s passion for the agricultural industry "developed and thrived" at Geraldine High School with very supportive agriculture teachers setting him on the path for Lincoln.

"I chose Lincoln for two reasons: the first being the warm and inviting atmosphere and the second it being the home of the leading agricultural scientists in the country, if not the world, so where best to come and learn."

He is studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree, specialising in crops, soils, and business management areas.

"After graduating from Lincoln, I am aiming to enter on-farm technical sales or advisory roles, where I am looking to help further improve and add value to farming operations."

Hamish describes his background in the rural sector as "vast" because of his father’s aerial agricultural contracting business and his extensive involvement in local farms and contracting businesses in the Eastern Southland and West Otago areas over the last eight years.

"I am in my fourth year of a Bachelor of Land and Property Management (rural valuation with primary production specification). I chose this study path to further my knowledge of the property industry and enable further growth within the rural sector, through farmers having the best information available.

"I chose Lincoln University to further my education due to the high regard it’s held in by the community and close friends in the Southland region. Therefore, I thought it would benefit my future career and business development opportunities."

Hamish plans to spend 12 months operating machinery in New Zealand and overseas post-graduation to gain some perspective on the opportunities and issues in the agricultural sector, "and see how we can make a positive change for the betterment of the country and the economy".