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
PHOTO: WORLD OF WEARABLE ART
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.
Camaraderie . . . Oamaru Volunteer Fire Brigade’s longserving senior firefighter Mike Isbister (left) and chief fire officer Steve Couper.