Army Firefighter Gears Up for International Combat Challenge

23 August 2018

Former Carmel College student Sapper Petra Dye-Hutchinson has been a New Zealand Army firefighter for just three years and is already a member of the Lion’s Den.

The Lion’s Den is an elite international club for competitive firefighters who have passed a number of extreme fitness and skill challenges.

She has also been chosen as a member of the New Zealand team that will take part in the International Combat Firefighter Challenge in Sacramento in the United States in October.

In her last years at high school, Sapper Dye-Hutchinson, whose family lives in Castor Bay on the North Shore, was considering a career in the police, nursing, or the New Zealand Defence Force.

“I worked as an orderly at North Shore Hospital and that was truly eye opening,” she said. “I was able to work alongside the police and firefighters, and I discovered the NZDF employs firefighters.

“I had a good understanding of what I was going to come across as a firefighter, but no idea what being a soldier entailed.”  

Sapper Dye-Hutchinson is based In Waiouru, having previously been at Burnham near Christchurch.

As a firefighter she is part of 2nd Royal NZ Engineer Regiment. Her early sapper training involved the basics of building bridges, boating, fencing, and demolitions. From there she and her colleagues did a “basic fire” course. 

“We learnt firefighter techniques, the science of fire, about hazardous materials, motor vehicle accidents, aircraft firefighting, and vegetation firefighting.”

Being an Army firefighter means their skills can be used inside and outside camp.

“When we get a call-out it could be anywhere in or near Waiouru,” she said.

“We go outside the wire, attending calls in the community, and in Waiouru we come across a lot of vehicle accidents on the Desert Rd.

“When I was at Burnham we deployed five rural fire pods to the Port Hills fire in 2017 and at the same time manned Burnham station. It was a busy time for everyone involved.”

Sapper Dye-Hutchinson keeps fit by training alongside other soldiers in her regiment’s  physical training classes, and does her own training, comprising circuits, weights, or a good run up the hills in the Waiouru training ground.

“In my personal training I work on a base fitness. I always want to maintain speed, and be able to lift so I can do my job. But most of all I want to keep up with the boys or do better than them.”

Training for the firefighters’ Combat Challenge comprises stair sprints, 80kg dummy drags, circuits, and hit and strength training (involving swinging a sledgehammer and hauling a firehose up stairs) – all with firefighter kit on.  

Shift work, and balancing a personal life and work can sometimes be hard, but Sapper Dye-Hutchinson said having a job that meant someone always had your back made up for that.

“Being part of another family, but most of all helping others in need, is what makes my job great.”

The Combat Firefighter Challenge course involves:

• Climbing a six-storey tower carrying a length of 70mm (19kg) flaked hose
• Carrying a 70mm hose coil up six storeys
• Chopping using a 4kg shot hammer to drive a beam 1.5 metres
• Extending a charged length of 45mm hose to knock down a target
• Dragging a life-sized 85kg dummy 30.5m

For a woman to become a member of the Lion’s Den this must be completed in less than three minutes. For men, it is less than 1 minute 40 seconds.

This page was last reviewed on 7 February 2019.