With 3,500kg kerosene and 8,500kg liquid oxygen on board – and the usual risks around getting a rocket into space – Fire and Emergency NZ played a crucial role in providing on-the-ground safety and support to prepare for the worst case scenario during last weekend’s Rocket Lab test launch. Luckily it wasn’t needed.

We caught up with Area Manager, Ken Cooper, to find out what was involved in this NZ and World-first operation.

We’ve been working alongside Rocket Lab since before Christmas 2016 to provide a fire response plan to protect the environment and keep the community safe, in case of a failure of the rocket launch. Our key role has been to provide advice on risk and take the lead in running the Emergency Services Coordination Centre (ESCC) from where we’d coordinate the emergency services and an emergency response if required.  The ESCC team also provided situational awareness nationally, for example, providing a link from Mahia to the Police National Coordination Centre in Wellington so they could observe operations in real time.

Being part of the test launches was a first for FENZ and it felt like we were part of something really special, part of the operation, and an integral part of Rocket Lab’s business.

For the response plan, we replicated our Local Coordination Centre (LCC) on site, adjusting it slightly to accommodate for challenges around Mahia’s remote location. Our people were rotated through the ESCC during each nine-day launch window, and included Area Commanders, Business Services Coordinator, Region Telecommunications Specialist, Fire Risk Management and fire response crews sourced from Nuhaka Volunteer Fire Brigade, Wairoa Volunteer Fire Brigade and Mahia Volunteer Rural Fire Force.  It’s been a great opportunity to build capability and provide exposure to our people in a unique environment, for example our Business Services Coordinator undertaking the role of Centre Manager running the coordination centre.  We were also able to rotate through several Area Commanders from both Region 2 and 3.

Initially, response capability was heavy due to the unknowns, but over time we became more comfortable with understanding and managing the risk and we’re now aiming to transition our response to business as usual, which means we can operate the ESCC remotely from Napier or Gisborne for the third test launch.  We’ll then work with Rocket Lab to see what our future response requirements will be.

Right now, we’re working with Rocket Lab to help them build their own internal capability, including training for their people in basic vegetation firefighting skills. 

We’ll also work with the Police to develop an Emergency Response plan for Rocket Lab.

Did you know?
Rocket Lab is a privately funded company with a mission to remove the barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit. 
  • Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by Peter Beck
  • The first test launch ‘It’s a Test’ from Mahia – 25 May 2017
  • Second test launch ‘Still Testing’ from Mahia – 21 January 2018
  • Third test launch planned for early this year.
Some of the ESCC Team in action at the Mahia fishing club (base for the ESCC operations) L to R, Inspector Ross Smith, NZ Police; Beth Mogford, NZ Police; Raoni Spark, Fire and Emergency NZ, Craig Bedford, Fire and Emergency NZ, AAM Glen Varcoe, Fire and Emergency NZ

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