Years of ser­vice not over yet for ded­i­cated fire­man

A long­serv­ing Oa­maru fire­fighter has al­most spent half a cen­tury pro­tect­ing the peo­ple of North Otago and sur­round­ing ar­eas. Shan­non Gil­lies finds out the role luck has played in the 66­year­old for­mer sheep farmer’s life and what the fu­ture holds for hi

Otago Daily Times - - Regions -

PHOTO: WORLD OF WEAR­ABLE ART

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

FORTY­THREE years sneaks up on you, Mike Is­bis­ter jokes. And it might have felt like that when Mr Is­bis­ter’s 43 years of ser­vice to Fire and Emer­gency New Zealand [Fenz] was recog­nised ear­lier this month at a cer­e­mony in Oa­maru.

But, de­pend­ing on his fu­ture health, he aimed to crack 50 years with the ser­vice, the for­mer Gle­navy farmer said.

Mr Is­bis­ter joined the fledg­ling Gle­navy Vol­un­teer Fire Brigade as one of its found­ing mem­bers when he was only a few months into his now 44­year­long mar­riage.

‘‘Gle­navy Brigade was just be­gin­ning at the time and they were look­ing to get vol­un­teers es­tab­lished there. I put my hand up and never got away from it.’’

He was there for 16 years and worked his way up to be­ing deputy chief.

The 1980s eco­nomic down­turn forced him to leave sheep farm­ing in the Waitaki Bridge area and the Gle­navy brigade.

‘‘If I had my way — with­out the down­turn — I would have stayed there.’’

He moved into Oa­maru and joined the Oa­maru Vol­un­teer Fire Brigade and be­gan the climb up the fire hi­er­ar­chy lad­der from the bot­tom.

He be­came a se­nior fire­fighter for Oa­maru, but about two years ago stepped back to an op­er­a­tional sup­port role due to his age.

What he en­joyed most from his time as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter was the camaraderie.

‘‘[It’s] be­ing with peo­ple who talk the same lan­guage.’’

A high­light of his vol­un­teer career was a 2008 fire at an Oa­maru meat works.

‘‘We started work at 9am on Sun­day and then fin­ished at 1.30am on Mon­day.

‘‘There was one chap in front of me, both had BA [breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus] — I had my hat on his cylin­der and I couldn’t see him. It was smoky and hot.

‘‘He was lead­ing. He was in there and just feel­ing the hose with his feet. That was the only way we knew what way [we were] go­ing.’’

In his time, fire­fight­ing had un­der­gone huge tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments and they had been for the bet­ter, he said.

‘‘Dif­fer­ent equip­ment — let­ter equip­ment to work with. Ini­tially when I started at Gle­navy we didn’t have any breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus equip­ment. It was only in the late ’70s it started com­ing in in a big way.’’

What he had not en­joyed so much was the in­tro­duc­tion of a ‘‘paperwork’’ cul­ture for se­nior fire­fight­ing staff.

He rec­om­mend Fenz as an or­gan­i­sa­tion to vol­un­teer for.

‘‘You meet up with a a lot of great peo­ple there and dif­fer­ent views on life at some times, but dur­ing fire­fight­ing you know the guy be­side you is in­volved as much as you are.’’

He was given a cer­tifi­cate to mark his years of ser­vice.

Mr Is­bis­ter is mar­ried and has four chil­dren.

shan­non.gil­lies@odt.co.nz

Camaraderie . . . Oa­maru Vol­un­teer Fire Brigade’s long­serv­ing se­nior fire­fighter Mike Is­bis­ter (left) and chief fire of­fi­cer Steve Couper.

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