Firefighters celebrate a ‘marathon’ effort
An original member of Waitara’s fire police remembers when 18 volunteer firefighters worked at the freezing works in 1964.
‘‘When there was a call-out it was like the Boston marathon, all of them running up the road,’’ Hugh Taylor said.
Old and current crew members gathered for beers and a hangi at the Waitara fire station on Saturday to celebrate 50 years since the operational support unit started.
The operational support unit, which 50 years ago was known as the fire police, is responsible for the safety of firefighters while they carry out their job.
Hugh Taylor and Bruce Pengelly were the original fire police, starting together in 1964.
Times had certainly changed, Pengelly said.
‘‘We had nothing when we started, just our own clothes and push-bikes.’’
These days the fire support unit has its own van, high-visibility vests, lightweight helmets and the fire trucks have a closed back to protect crew from the often harsh Taranaki elements.
Pengelly recalls one particularly foul day when the crew got a callout to a chimney fire.
‘‘It was blowing like hell and raining like anything, the fire chief and his son jumped in the cab and took off but nobody got on the back.
‘‘They got there and the whole kitchen was alight.
‘‘I bet a few of the guys got a kick in the pants after that.’’
Pengelly said safety had improved hugely with the introduction of high-vis.
‘‘We’d be standing out there and the cars would just about run over you,’’ Pengelly said. ‘‘You’d wave your torch at them.’’
‘‘And we supplied our own torches,’’ Taylor added.
Most of their job comprised dispersing rubber-neckers and ensuring robberies didn’t occur in nearby shops when everyone was distracted by a fire, Pengelly said.
‘‘You get a lot of nosy buggers coming along as soon as the siren went off,’’ Taylor said.
Now the fire support unit offers protection to fire fighters attending road accidents as well as fires.