When Dannevirke Cactus students graduated from their gruelling eight-week course in July their question was "what's next"?

Last week, 16 of the original 29 graduates discovered the answer as they gained NZQA qualifications at a radio operators' course and then did the hard yards learning some of the skills needed to be part of a rural fire crew. The day was led by Tararua District Council's resilience manager Paddy Driver.

The original army-based Cactus (Combined Adolescent Challenge Training Unit and Support) programme was run by senior constable Wayne Churchouse, an officer in the army territorials.

"The Tararua District Council were impressed with our Cactus graduates and have helped out with this 'what next' programme," he said.


"After the radio operator course, at which some excelled, Paddy Driver has said the students could be of use during an emergency and following their rural pump training some may wish to take up a role with a fire crew."

Mr Driver said six of the teens showed real excellence in the radio operator training. "I really put them through the hoops," he said.

Following the day of emergency training the teens were put through a workplace first aid course funded by the council.

And while it can be hard to quantify successful outcomes following the Cactus course, Mr Churchouse said there has been some good feedback. "Six weeks after the course students reported a huge increase in their well-being and the way they felt about themselves."