Firefighters try to pour water on Dunedin uni couch fires

By Rhys Chamberlain

The Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) is assigning students numbers on their wristbands so paramedics can access emergency contacts and identities if needed. Photo / NZPA
The Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) is assigning students numbers on their wristbands so paramedics can access emergency contacts and identities if needed. Photo / NZPA

Dunedin residents are being told to remove couches from their porches ahead of the annual Hyde St Party today.

Willowbank firefighters have been going door-to-door advising people after couch fires marred the opening weeks of the university year last month.

Fire Service East Otago area commander Laurence Voight said it was about public safety.

"As crews have been traversing the area ... and see a couch on a porch, they asked them to move it inside," Mr Voight said.

"We're doing our best [and] we can only ask them to do it and we'll have to deal with the consequences if not." Education was an ongoing service firefighters were providing in the area, Mr Voight said.

They would liaise with residents on everything from broken glass in the streets to drinking and frying and ensuring smoke alarms were working.

"From our point of view, we're interested in giving people these life skills to take home with them as well," he said.

Despite being hailed a success last year, drunken incidents marred the event including an attack on a St John Ambulance vehicle, a dozen arrests and many needing medical attention at the event.

Emergency services are prepared for any damage from the Hyde St party this year.

A total of 3600 tickets had been sold to the event while wristbands with individual numbers will help identify students if things go pear-shaped.

The Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) is assigning students numbers on their wristbands so paramedics can access emergency contacts and identities if needed. It also means the association will have control over who gets into the event, so they can keep out-of-towners away.

Mr Voight said they were providing extra support and staff to the event and would be "standing by to deal with any fallout that arises later in the evening".

"We are providing our command unit to be able to be accessed by St John and police [and] two staff to work the command unit."

The extra support and precaution was at a cost to the Fire Service and staff had to be "brought back" for the event, he said.

"It's standard but ... it's not something we enjoy."

St John communications adviser Ian Henderson said the service viewed the event as "business as usual", which was similar to previous years.

"We hope people enjoy themselves in a responsible manner," he said.

"If they need assistance then St John personnel will be available. At the same time we will still be available for the wider Dunedin community."

A police spokesman said staff would work with the organiser to make the event "as safe as possible" where necessary.

"We encourage those attending to enjoy themselves within the bounds of the law and to keep themselves and their friends safe." Police had been involved in planning the event and the OUSA had done a "great job" in assisting residents of Hyde St to prepare, the spokesman said.

The spokesman deferred all questions on security to the organiser.

An OUSA spokeswoman said its primary focus was around safety.

"We have a security deployment plan that is in line with the size of the operation, which we are confident will reflect a balance between safety and friendliness," she said.

The party gets under way at 9am and is scheduled to finish at 5.30pm.

Earlier in the month 18 people were taken to Dunedin Hospital's emergency department after a balcony collapse during a Six60 concert.

- NZ Herald

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