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Student firefighter takes knowledge to the ‘real world’

Fire
Thanks to the support of the Department of Chemistry, PhD student Casey Davies is able to work as a volunteer firefighter with the Ravensbourne Volunteer Fire Brigade

The 24-year-old is also a part-time teaching fellow for HAZX401, a paper about the management of Chemical Hazards

Whether in a deep sleep or immersed in his PhD studies, when the fire siren wails in the Dunedin harbour-side suburb of Ravensbourne, Casey Davies is in his car heading to the local fire station within minutes.

24-year-old Casey is a firefighter for the Ravensbourne Volunteer Fire Brigade. He is also employed at the University’s Chemistry Department as a part-time teaching fellow for a paper about chemical hazards – something he knows plenty about.

The University Chemistry Department’s efforts in supporting Casey’s other role as a volunteer firefighter were recognised at a recent function held at the Ravensbourne Fire Station.

Ravensbourne Chief Fire Officer Ross Bryant says the employers of all the volunteer firefighters were invited to the function, recognising their contribution to the service.

Volunteer brigades are reliant upon employers such as the University enabling their employees to respond to calls throughout the day, and perhaps arrive late for work at times when they have been up working during the night, Mr Bryant says.

Management of chemical hazards

Casey is a second-year PhD student working with Dr Guy Jameson, exploring factors which influence the activity of the enzyme cysteine dioxygenase. This enzyme is involved in multiple neurodegenerative disorders, particularly Parkinson’s disease.

Casey is also a part-time teaching fellow for HAZX401, the management of Chemical Hazards paper.

Head of the Department of Chemistry Professor Lyall Hanton says this perfectly complements Casey’s fire service work and further brings credibility to the paper because he is taking his chemistry knowledge to the real world.

He is originally from Ohoka in North Canterbury. His older brother joined the local volunteer fire service when he turned 16, and when Casey shifted to Ravensbourne and the local fire siren sounded, well, the rest as they say is history.

Casey has been a volunteer for the past five years and hopes to get his stripes soon to become a qualified firefighter. He aims to become a senior firefighter by the end of next year.

He has enjoyed the experience so much, he encouraged his partner, Tessa Stewart, to give it a go and she has now joined the 15-member team as well.

Chemical hazards training - just in case

While Casey’s chemical knowledge is not called upon very often in call-outs, he has taken over the teaching of chemical hazards for the Ravensbourne crew.

With Professor Hanton’s help, the pair set up a mock methamphetamine laboratory at Casey’s house so his colleagues would know what they might encounter if there is ever a ‘P-Lab’ explosion.

Call-outs are usually more mundane however, with a fair share of false alarms and chimney fires.

But the more unusual call-outs Casey has attended include helping extricate a child whose leg got stuck in a recliner lounge chair, and harnessing some 20,000 honey bees swarming around a property.

Casey hopes to eventually land a postdoctoral academic position in future, but where ever he ends up, you can be sure he’ll be hunting out the local volunteer fire brigade.