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Wise decision avoids potential incident in Pirongia Forest

Outdoor workers are ever mindful of how changes in the weather can make a big difference to the way they would view risk. And it seemed that in July, following day after day of rain that a plotting contractor working for PF Olsen had to re-evaluate and alter his response. This meant that he spent an unplanned night in Pirongia Forest when he chose the safe option of not crossing a ford where the water level was too high.

The contractor was Tony Caird of Exotic Assessments, who we caught up with after the event to find out what happened. However, before telling the story we would like to refer readers to the Company’s “Safe OP – Adverse Events”, which is a general safety rules and guidance for weather events in the main. Some of that guidance includes the following:

“Prior to entering a forest, all persons shall be familiar with the weather forecast, including predicted wind speeds and heavy rain.

All persons in a forest shall monitor site weather conditions, and using the ‘decision support tool’ exit the forest as/when appropriate.”

To his credit, Tony knew the weather forecast was for rain because this is something he checks before heading out every working day. When he crossed the ford to get to his work he made a mental note of where the water was and he came back regularly during the day to check it, using a height pole to do so. When the rain suddenly started to get heavier, he made the decision to leave, however, his timing was out and the river had risen. In hindsight, Tony says that “the large catchment area is probably what caused the flow to rise so quickly.”

Making the decision not to risk crossing, Tony called his wife and supervisor to inform them of his situation and used his phone to take a photo of the ford (see below). He was prepared with spare warm clothes and plenty of diesel to run the vehicle heater. Tony comments that he ate his remaining lunch for dinner – a homemade chocolate chip biscuit and an apple and then spent the night in his ute. He says that the experience was “better than a long plane flight”.

In the process of deciding what to do, Tony considered the volume of water flowing and the fact that there was a waterfall further down the river. If he attempted to cross the flooded ford he risked getting water in the motor and becoming stuck part way, which could result in the ute being pushed down the river towards the waterfall. A couple of weeks earlier two people lost their lives attempting to cross a swollen river on the West Coast. With those factors in mind, his conclusion was that he would be safest in his vehicle and so he hunkered down with his chocolate chip biscuit.

This is the value of experience and in applying the guidance material. We commend this course of action because Tony chose the safe option over his comfort or any other priority. Had he not, this may well have been a different story.

When he crossed the ford the next morning at 7am, his first stop was the Pirongia Bakery which, to his dismay, told him it was too early to make him fish & chips!

Tony Caird made a wise decision not to cross this swollen river in Pirongia Forest even though it meant a night sleeping rough.