On duty all hours

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No such thing as a quiet meal out for woman firefighter.

It’s just as well brave Queens­towner Clare Mallard’s daytime boss also happens to be her husband.

The 35-year-old is one of just two operational volunteer woman firefighters based at the brigade’s Robins Road station – and she’s on call 24/7.

Mallard often rushes from her job as receptionist at her hubby Adrian Paul’s busy dental practice on Queenstown’s Esplanade to attend emergencies around the Wakatipu.

Her role with the fire service plays havoc with her home life, too.

She sometimes has to dash from bed in the wee small hours and abandon social nights out.

But despite constant disruptions, Mallard wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The worst jobs happen between 3am-5am because you know it’s likely to be serious and you’re going to be very tired,” she says.

“At work it’s also just as well we have a great team spirit because I was once called out seven times in the same day.

“I’d no sooner be back in the office than I’d be straight back out again. Even my husband was beginning to ask if I still worked there.”

She adds: “But Adrian is great about it all and it’s not unusual for me to have to leave a restaurant after just the starter and my main course gets taken home in a doggy bag.”

Mallard, originally from Northamptonshire in England, arrived in Queenstown in 2003 with her Kiwi dentist husband.

She joined the local brigade three years ago, wanting to contribute something positive to the community.

Her dedication was recently recognised by her peers when she picked up two top local awards – for being the most conscientious firefighter and also for having the best attendance record.

Most callouts in Queenstown are to house and scrub fires – and hotel alarms which also go off at all times of the day and night.

But Mallard says the most heartbreaking incidents tend to be road smashes as many end in serious injury or death.

“You have to cut people out of cars and can see a lot of tragedy,” she explains. “The worst bit is when you realise that you might know a victim.

“Because Queenstown is quite a small place, this can happen. But when you know that’s going to be the case you can always swap jobs with someone else.

“The bad accidents really affect you though and are often on my mind for a long time afterwards.”

Despite the nature of the work, Mallard surprisingly insists she’s never felt in any real danger – even when tackling burning buildings.

“I do go in with the front line now but our fire chiefs are always present and overlook everything we’re doing,” she says. “Safety is paramount.

“Being small and fairly flexible, I’m pretty useful for crawling into places that a man couldn’t get to, like ceiling spaces.”

She continues: “It’s not just fires and road accidents we attend. We sometimes get called to help [paragliders] stuck up trees and find people who’ve got lost or in trouble up in the hills.”

There are about 30 male volunteers at the Queenstown station but Mallard insists it’s not a macho environment and that everyone has a place.

“We have everyone from managers to carpenters and plumbers and the sense of teamwork is fantastic.

“But it has to be said the men’s wives and partners do an incredibly important job as well.

“They provide a lot of essential help and support and they also have to look after the kids when their men have to suddenly drop everything and rush off.”

She adds: “You have to have a real passion to be a firefighter. That’s what keeps you going when you’ve had a really hard day of it.”