Firefighting drive endures for 50 years
Dennis Alexander’s neighbours can sleep soundly – he’s got a fully equipped fire engine in his garage.
In fact, Alexander, 70, could be New Zealand’s most dedicated firefighter.
Not only has he just been awarded a double gold star for serving 50 years as a fireman, but he also has his own museum of firefighting memorabilia housed in an old dairy factory in rural Taranaki.
He welcomes groups of visitors to view the thousands of model fire engines, flags, uniforms, fire extinguishers, photographs and other items.
His pride and joy is a Dennis fire engine, which painstakingly restored.
Although it is kitted out with everything he would need to fight a fire, nowadays it usually only comes out for special occasions such as the Eltham Christmas parade and the fire brigade’s 150th anniversary celebrations in Whanganui last year.
Alexander became a volunteer with the Eltham Fire Brigade 10 years ago, after 40 years’ fulltime service with fire services in Petone, he has Ardmore, Auckland, New Plymouth.
He and his wife Ann moved to Eltham after Dennis spotted the former Hunter Rd dairy factory for sale, a building big enough to house his collection.
Firefighting is in his blood – his father was a full-time fireman, and his grandfather was superintendent of the Thames volunteer brigade.
The job was very different when he started, aged 16, he said.
‘‘It was very regimented, almost Denny's knowledge and methodology is invaluable. Hawera and naval; it was run by ex-seamen, everything had to be done on the double. We didn’t salute, but it was pretty close to it.’’
In those days, they rescued people from burning buildings in ways they’d never be expected to or allowed to do these days.
‘‘One guy on a ladder would put his foot on the sill, tie a rope around a person and lower them to the ground, and we’d carry people out.’’
He remembers big house fires in Petone, where the wooden buildings were crowded together and the blaze would spread.
His actions had helped save lives on a few occasions, he said, but contact with the people involved was discouraged. ‘‘We all worked as a team.’’ ‘‘It was something we didn’t tend to do, though it might be different now. We’d read about people in the papers later and that they were doing well, and that was it.’’
Chief fire officer of the Eltham brigade, Dave Waite, described Alexander as ‘‘an all-round good guy’’ who was well respected by the brigade.
‘‘Denny’s knowledge and methodology is invaluable. If we have a technical rescue, he’s a very good guy to call on.’’
Alexander was also key in a lot of successful fundraising campaigns and managed the tanker service that delivered water to households in the community.