Tracey Palmer NZ's first woman specialist fire investigator

By Kristin Edge

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Tracy Palmer is the first volunteer female firefighter to qualify as a specialist fire investigator in New Zealand and Terry Baylis has also requalified as an investigator.Photo/John Stone
Tracy Palmer is the first volunteer female firefighter to qualify as a specialist fire investigator in New Zealand and Terry Baylis has also requalified as an investigator.Photo/John Stone

It was the sound of the fire station siren reverberating round the hills near her Northland home that piqued Tracy Palmer's interest in becoming a volunteer firefighter.

The mother of two, now with seven years' volunteer experience, has become New Zealand's first female volunteer to qualify as a specialist fire investigator.

"I was a mum at home and I thought surely I can help. I went into the Hikurangi brigade and they basically said 'what size clothing do you take' and I joined up.

"That WW II siren at the station called me ... it ignites a sense of urgency and calls you to an emergency.

"When the wind is right it filters all the way up the valley to my house."

For years she attended fires and crashes with the Hika team and then had the opportunity to become specialised.

One of Northland's fire investigators, Craig Bain, put out a call for anyone interested in discovering more about fires to help him out on calls.

Mrs Palmer accepted the challenge and has found the world of fire investigation extremely challenging and interesting.

"I enjoy the psychological side of the investigation, like why someone would light a fire.

"Really you have to be part-police officer, part-forensic scientist and also a chemist. You have to be a bit of everything and be a bit suspicious." Mr Bain said Mrs Palmer had shown commitment and dedication to learning the trade and it was great to have another specialist investigator in Northland.

The courses were very technical and in depth, he said.

Previously Terry Baylis, with 37 years' experience in the Fire Service, was a fire investigator but due to changes he was required to sit exams to bring him up to speed with the new requirements for the qualification.

He is currently also the deputy fire chief at Ruakaka and in charge of fire risk management for Fire Region 1 in Northland.

Even after so many years in the service, he still finds attending house fires devastating.

"You see so much trauma with house fires, especially when a family house is destroyed through no fault of their own," Mr Baylis said.

He said the new updated qualifications made reporting on fire incidents easier and more thorough so if a case was taken to court there was plenty of detail.

- Northern Advocate

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