8 Tuesday December 20 2016 Our People Working out the cause of Finding answers by sifting through the ruins of a property may not be everybody’s first choice as a job, but Rolleston’s Mike Gaskin, 50, said if he had his time again he would still be a fire investigator. He speaks with Andrew King about the biggest fire he has fought and why he became a fire investigator Tell us how long have you been a fire investigator? My fire service started in the United Kingdom in 1984. I’m from the north-east of England, a heavy industrial place near Middlesbrough. I didn’t start off as a fire investigator, I spent time in the service before taking up the job in April last year. What got you into it? I was a firefighter who rose through the ranks in the UK. When I moved over here, around five years ago, I started off as a fire safety adviser working in risk management. Then the job came up [fire investigator] and I thought it would be a good use of my skills so I applied for it. And that is how I ended up where I have. Did you move here during the earthquakes? My wife moved over just before the February one, and I arrived in July. We were based in Auckland so we missed most of the action. We now live in Rolleston. That’s a lucky break. What is the most rewarding aspect of the job? Being able to determine the cause and origin of a fire. Every scene is different and being able to say whether the fire has been deliberately lit or it was a light switch or whatever it may be is a great result. It is all about answering the question, and if we can that out it is a satisfying day at work for me. It is not quite like CSI on the telly but we do work through a scientific process. What is the worst aspect? If you have to deal with a fatal incident then that is not the greatest day in the office because someone has lost their life. But every fire scene we go to there is a loss of something, be it someone’s property or someone’s livelihood. So that is hard. Can you remember your first call? No, I don’t. It was a while ago and I have done about 70-plus investigations to date. Is there any investigation that has really stuck with you? The Brian Ford Engineering – Briford Trailers fire in the city a AT HOME: Fire investigator Mike Gaskin said being part of the worldwide family that is the Fire Service has been a privilege and a pleasure. PHOTO: ANDREW KING few months back. The sheer scale of the fire is why it stands out to me. It was a huge fire, big building and we managed to reduce the origin area to within 1 sq m. It was a team effort on that one as I worked with the insurance fire investigator. It was one of the larger ones I have done and it took about three days to work out. But very rewarding to get that result. What are the most inconvenient places to investigate? HARD WORK: Mike Gaskin and his team established an electrical fault in a tiny area had caused this massive fire at Brian Ford Engineering – Briford Trailers, in Woolston, something he said is an achievement that has stuck with him. PHOTOS: GEOFF SLOAN SELWYN TIMES Roof spaces are awkward to deal with but luckily I am built like a racing snake so I don’t struggle like others might. You have to prepared to get into some pretty small places. Under floors, in the roof. Pretty standard stuff. Is there any special nickname for a fire investigator? Not really no. The firefighters might but we probably can’t print them (laughing). How is the relationship with firefighters? I find it really good. Having served over 27 years, you find it is one big family worldwide. You are respected for what you do. Fire investigators are respected because of their knowledge and time in the industry. I have a fantastic working relationship with them. There is some tongue-incheek joking about firefighters destroying evidence but 99.9 per cent of the time that’s is not the case.
SELWYN TIMES Tuesday December 20 2016 9 Local Views major fires What goes through your head as you enter a gutted building? You try to walk in with an open mind. We have to look at all possibilities as well as the evidence and take a scientific approach to the situation. We will always start outside then work our way in. Look for the greatest damage as that tends to indicate it has been burning longer and so on. But it is all about the open mind and having a good look around first before speaking to those involved. You need those few minutes to see what the picture is telling you before I add in others and evidence. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found while investigating? Teeth marks in wires from rats is one of the oddest things. Then the usual of pots left on stoves. Another rarity is the linseed oil rags which can self-combust. It is just a chemical reaction. They can start a fire on their own? Oh yes. If they are not rinsed out and put away properly, say they are just scrunched up and put in a pile then they could definitely cause a fire. What do you do about mental blocks? How do you work through them? Quite often we walk away from it for five minutes so you can clear your head. It is the old saying sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Often you are looking at it from too smaller scale so you need that breather to have a look around and, if need be, there is a great team here in Christchurch so I can pick up a phone and get some good advice. Has there ever been an investigation that has stumped you? There have been some where the tin from the roof is on the dirt floor so there is very little to go on. Those you may be able to find the origin but most likely not the cause. It can be frustrating, but at the end of the day you can only solve what you can solve. If the evidence doesn’t present itself, it doesn’t. INVESTIGATION: There is a lot of paperwork but Mike Gaskin said if he could go back in time, he would do it all again. PHOTO: ANDREW KING How do families react with you? It must be tough having to deal with them so soon after their loss? Part of the investigation process is to find where the fuel is. Couches are fuel, beds are fuel so we need to know where those things are in the property to determine what happened. It is certainly hard on them and we have to be very empathetic but because you are there to help find out what happened they are normally pretty good. I am yet to find people that have been hard to deal with. Have you ever assisted an investigation overseas? No, sadly not, but if you hear of any (laughing). I hear Fiji is good at this time of year. I’ll let you know if I do, so if you had your time again would you be a fire investigator or would you do something else? I would happily do it all again. I enjoyed the time in the UK riding on the back of the trucks gaining knowledge about the job. I loved it. You must have been to some big fires in the UK, especially coming from an industrialbased city? There was a plastics factory a number of years ago that we had 45 appliances fighting it for four days. We had to bring foam supplies in from Holland on ships. It was about 1.5 sq km of burning factories and chemical plants. That must have been scary to fight? I was simply a firefighter at that point so I just turned up and did what I was told. It spread very quickly. I hear you have just turned the big 5-0, what did you do for it? I actually went to The Akaroa Cooking School, it was a present from my wife. Is that a reflection on your cooking or do you enjoy it? I love cooking. It is one of my favourite things to do. What is your speciality? You can’t beat a good steak I feel. •Firefighters honoured, p13 Readers respond to the district council providing a car for Mayor Sam Broughton at a cost of up to $38,000 C. Mitchell, of Darfield – I don’t agree that the council should supply a car for Mr Broughton. Having previously been a councillor, he was aware that the job did not include a car and, indeed, has a suitable 4WD vehicle of his own. Starting to spend council funds on perks for Sam wouldn’t appear to be a good start for a new mayor. Martha Dyksma, of Prebbleton – I certainly agree with a car being provided for Sam Broughton. Being a young man with a family, he needs more help to get started in such a position, so that he can perform to his highest standard. Selwyn is a huge district and this enthusiastic young man got the majority vote of the people. Grant Prescott, of Darfield – After reading your article in relation to the Mayor Sam Broughton getting a car on ratepayers’ money is a disgrace. Had he advised voters he was going to get a car once he was mayor I am sure people would have asked ‘why?’ and then voted elsewhere. Selwyn District Council has a large number of pool cars that sit behind the fence unused, why does he not use one of those? No, I guess its because he wants his own personal car paid for by the ratepayer. Shame on you Sam Broughton and I suspect with this behaviour your position will be short-lived. To state that it is just too much to fill in paperwork is a nonsense. When he went for the job there was no car and it should remain that way. I see even some of his colleagues disagreed, well maybe he should ask the ratepayers before he goes and spends our money. I for one vote a big no. When I see him I will tell him that as well. Margaret Weaver, of Southbridge – I feel rather strongly that the mayor should not have a car bought for him by the district council. Being a ratepayer I object strongly that my rates will be used to buy this vehicle as there are more important areas that the money can be used. I’m sure that if he needed a vehicle that badly, 4WD or not, that he can use the vehicles the council already has in its car pool. We see enough of them driving around the area. As for the comment that his position as mayor warrants a vehicle being provided what a lot of tosh – it does not, he has been in the position five minutes and what the council, and the mayor, for that matter have to start realising is that the ratepayers pay their wages and they are meant to work for the people of Selwyn. I think this is quite often forgotten. Stuart Brannigan, of Southbridge – I did not hear any of the mayoral candidates mention the need for a councilprovided vehicle during the recent election campaign. If the new mayor’s reasons for one are to be believed, need to meet with the ratepayers and filling out forms, what has he been doing for the last six years? If the council provides a vehicle, they should require the mayor to sign a lease to buy agreement, thus not setting a precedent that the ratepayer will fund every new mayor a vehicle of their choice in future. •HAVE YOUR SAY: If you’ve got a view on a local issue that you’d like to share, send it in 250 words or less to tom.doudney@starmedia. kiwi