Senior rural firefighter Kevin Ihaka also appealed to the arsonist. The fires and the impact. The Pouto Peninsula is a landform on the northern Kaipara Harbour and is a sparsely populated area with about fulltime residents. The peninsula runs from the outskirts south of Dargaville to Poto Point, about 65km in length. It is surrounded on three sides either by the sea or the Kaipara Harbour, with its width varying from 4.
Searle lived on the peninsula. His parents lived there and ran a forestry contracting business. Searle had first hand knowledge of the terrain and knew just how remote the area was.
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As a keen motorcross rider he and friends regularly took to the giant sand hills along the rough west coast of the peninsula, launching themselves into the air in daredevil fashion. Searle was also a keen pig hunter and trekked through the pine forests on many a successful hunting mission. He camped with friends and family at various places on the Pouto Peninsula. It was his playground but one he chose to destroy. The first fire police charged Searle with was on June 5, and the last was January 12, at popular holiday destination Kellys Bay.
On June 5 Searle and a mate went along the beach and went into an area of teatree and pampas bush. With the quick flick of a lighter a fire soon took hold and 15ha of native vegetation was destroyed. Searle told investigating police he was paid to work on the fire for a week. While camping with family in an area know as Mitch Bay he snuck off on his motorbike and rode to the Pouto Lighthouse where he again used the cheap lighter to spark a blaze in pampas bushes.
Searle went to a family bach where he got his firefighter gear and drove to the lighthouse and attempted to contain the fire. However, 10ha of native vegetation was destroyed before the fire then engulfed 8ha of commercial pine forest. And in February , Searle and his girlfriend at the time and another friend were in the area known as Tom's Track.
Searle drove along the beach and up onto the track where he lit some six fires which destroyed 15ha of native bush. Again as a volunteer firefighter Searle spent a week extinguishing the blaze. In once case, Searle travelled a short distance from his home to an area of scrub and exotic forest to light a fire and then started a second fire just a bit further along the road in bush belonging to the Department of Conservation. But later that same year Searle moved from vegetation fires to setting a bach on fire.
He was staying at his parent's bach on the peninsula and walked just 50m along the road to spark a blaze in an unoccupied bach. Director-General Lou Sanson said staff were from a wide range of backgrounds, who lived and worked hand in hand with their local communities, bound together by their commitment and passion for caring for native wildlife, precious places and working together for the public good. In a victim impact statement presented to the court Sanson pointed out DoC was tasked with extinguishing the fires lit by Searle, a majority of which were in remote, difficult to access areas and imposed a significant impact on staff and firefighters.
There was a potential to risk life and property. Thousands of DoC staff hours were spent on the deliberately lit fires. Staff gave up their personal time during holidays and rostered time off. The indiscriminate wildfires burned through delicate habitats and ecosystems that will take many years to recover. Some would never recover. Sanson pointed out there was a major social impact on the staff. Andrew Searle was a volunteer firefighter working alongside Doc staff and firefighters. This along with the denigration of the firefighter reputation caused by Searle's actions were considerable and should not be underrated.
He acknowledged police who worked on the case. He said officers treated the wildfires seriously and followed through on reported events. Adrenaline junkie.
So how did the young man, who loved adrenaline sports like motocross and wild pig hunting, go from firefighter to fire starter. Searle was about 15 when he joined the Te Kopuru Brigade and was only a few months short of his 20th birthday when he was arrested and appeared in the Dargaville District Court, only a kilometre or so from his old high school. In a report presented to the court for sentencing in March this year, Searle described himself as an "adrenaline junkie" and had lit the fires to get a "rush". According to Ian Lambie, a senior lecturer in psychology at Auckland University, arsonists fall into one of three categories.
There are the very young who set fires usually out of a desire to experiment and curiosity. Then there are youth and young adults who set fires for the hell of it and for the excitement of seeing the emergency services race to a call out.
And the third group are those driven by revenge or more complex psychological motives such as the desire for attention, to feel powerful or to conceal other crimes. Typically with adults its an issue of power and excitement. Lambie says those adults desiring power may have social problems or have low self-esteem. In America the issue of firefighters lighting fires was given serious consideration and in , and the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit compiled a profile of a firefighter-arsonist.
The FBI study found that firefighter-arsonists were mostly young firefighters eager to put their training to use and to be seen as heroes to their department and to the people of the community they served. The unit found that most firefighter-arsonists used unsophisticated methods for fire starting and tended to start fires with matches or cigarette lighters. The FBI came up with a profile of a typical firefighter-arsonist:. If from a home with both parents, the emotional atmosphere was mixed and unstable. If not married, still living at home with parents. In Canada, firefighters who start fires is a phenomenon officially called "firefighter arson".
Kevin Wedick, an Edmonton private fire investigator with the consulting firm Origin and Cause, says that of the cases he's seen in Alberta, most involve volunteer firefighters from small, rural departments.
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In addition to an adrenaline rush, they may also be motivated by financial gain, he says, since fighting a fire as a volunteer also means getting a pay cheque. A report by the United States Fire Administration called "firefighter arson" a rare but serious problem. Current status. Searle's mother Barbara is now the brigade's chief fire officer and his father Darren is the senior station officer.
Barbara Searle declined to comment when contacted by the Northern Advocate, saying all communications about the brigade had to go through Mosby at FENZ. Mosby did not answer questions specifically relating to FENZ's view on the Searles holding senior positions in the brigade, when they had taken up those roles, or if the community could have confidence in the Searles holding those positions. All brigade members and their families have been encouraged to take the opportunity to access psychological support and wellbeing services such as EAP at any time for additional support.
As the region's top firefighter Mosby commented that while firefighter involvement in arson did happen on rare occasions, these incidents were very isolated in the context of the services 14, dedicated people who do an incredible job to keep communities safe nationally. Warning not the best audio quality. Andrew talks about where he's been and whats coming up next.
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