Position: Fire scientist, Field: Rural (vegetation) fire behaviour and management, Organisation: Scion.
Stuart began his career by studying for a forestry degree (BSc) at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He gained some work experience in forestry and nature conservation in South Africa before travelling to the UK and Europe for his overseas experience (OE) for a few years. He then came to New Zealand where he took up his current position. He had no previous experience in fire research, but thought it sounded fascinating, and he was successful in his application for the position.
Stuart is now a fire scientist. This involves carrying out research into fire behaviour and the fire environment in New Zealand. This research provides science-based knowledge and tools to help fire management agencies protect life and property from wildfires. It also allows for the safe use of fire as a land management tool (for example, by farmers wishing to burn off scrub or unwanted vegetation).
What his work involves
The position is interesting and diverse. It includes carrying out experimental fires in the field to develop models. These models predict how fast fires will spread and how hot they will burn (which tells us how difficult they will be to control) in different types of vegetation. Other work in this field includes measuring firefighter fitness, social research with communities, computer modelling of fires and interaction with fire management personnel.
The position is challenging, requiring the ability to juggle many different projects at a time, but is rewarding. Stuart enjoys the close interaction with the operational aspects of fire management and the ability to develop science-based outcomes and tools that helps make fire managers’ and firefighters’ jobs easier, safer and more effective. He enjoys seeing the difference that science makes in the real world.
When Stuart is not working, he enjoys getting out and about, doing bushwalks with his dog, veggie gardening, reading, Asian cooking and travelling.
This article is based on information current in 2009.