Tawa Fire Brigade 70 years on
Ahouse fire in Linden in 1944 was a catalyst for the formation of Tawa’s first fire brigade. Former chief Peter Lockery, a veteran of 36 years with Tawa Volunteer Fire Brigade, said that before 1944, fires in the Tawa Flat area had to be attended by an appliance from the Porirua Lunatic Asylum.
‘‘It wasn’t an ideal situation back then,’’ he said. ‘‘After the house fire, Alan Melville, a builder, got together a group of guys and they went to a meeting of Makara County Council [ which oversaw Tawa Flat].
‘‘On October 12, 1944, they set up in a garage on the site where Mexted Motors is [in Main Rd].’’
More than half the 26 members who signed up in 1944 had resigned within 18 months, Lockery said, suggesting the brigade needed to ensure it had sufficient numbers to justify being set up.
The move to Lyndhurst Rd, where the brigade is now, took place in 1946. There was one truck, called the ‘‘banana wagon’’, Lockery said. All the gear for the brigade was surplus army gear and scrounged equipment.
Contrast that to today, with the brigade having two new appliances, modern equipment and all the training that firefighters could ask for, Lockery said.
Much of the work of Tawa brigade’s early work was gorse fires – often started by discarded cigarettes and sparks from the new railway line.
Changes came when Porirua City was established in the 1960s and paid members were based there.
The New Zealand Fire Service was set up in 1976, leading to more formalised rules and districts, Lockery said.
About that time, light industry took off in Tawa and Porirua, so warehouse and residential fires became more common.
‘‘There was a real spate for a while in the 70s,’’ he said. ‘‘We were probably getting one big fire every six months. Now it’s one a year.
‘‘We used to get a lot of false alarms at Porirua Hospital and Arohata, which was annoying. We’d be getting 450 calls a year in the late 1970s.’’
Recruits often used to be single men from the rugby club, but as Tawa’s population boomed, married men and women were seen as more desirable volunteers.
That was still the case today, said Tawa’s chief Michael Farrand, Lockery’s son-in-law.
The brigade was at its capacity of 30 volunteers now, Farrand said.
Recruiting has not been a problem lately, though one of the requirements is to live within about 2km of the station.
‘‘We’ve got a great, dedicated team,’’ Farrand said.
‘‘It’s a family, with our youngest member 20 and the oldest 65. We have no hand- me- down equipment – one of the trucks is 12 months old.’’
Farrand said he could have an appliance on the road within 3.5 minutes of a callout – there is a modern computer system at the station that tells him who is available and each volunteer has a pager.
Tawa’s first response area is anywhere along Kenepuru Dr, Tawa and Grenada North.
Though the modern service would attend fires, now it was more car accidents and community work, Farrand said.
He said he joined to ride fire trucks, but being able to make a difference in his community made giving up his time worthwhile.
Old: Tawa Flat Volunteer Fire Brigade turnout in the late 1940s.
New: More than 1000 people attended the brigade’s open day two weeks ago.