Fire­fight­ing drive en­dures for 50 years

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - CATHER­INE GROENESTEIN Dave Waite, Eltham chief fire of­fi­cer

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.

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