Firefighter urges people to volunteer

By Lawrence Gullery

Helping rural neighbours keep their properties safe from fire danger was a job everyone in Maraekakaho volunteered for "in the old days" recalls Joe Simmons.

"It goes back to when we were kids, it's the sort of thing you just did. When there was a fire everyone went to help with anything we had at the time, like sacks and bits and pieces, bugger all really," Mr Simmons said.

The 63 year old has been a volunteer with the Maraekakaho Rural Fire Service for four decades and will be among 43 people recognised for their long service to the fire service, at a special ceremony in Hastings on Wednesday.

Mr Simmons said the equipment and training the volunteer fire fighters used had improved remarkably over the years, partly thanks to the Hastings District Council "tooling us up a lot better" compared to his initial days in the service.

It's important because his rural fire team was usually first to respond with the professional fire fighters 15 to 20 minutes away in Hastings city. "I remember in the beginning we just had a pump on the back of a trailer, it was a bugger of a pump actually.

And the equipment we have now means we can actually handle a fire well before the guys from town (professional fire fighters) arrive," he said.

Mr Simmons remembered an old method employed by farmers, to curtail the number of problem rabbits in the rural country, which triggered a few headaches for the fire service.

"We used to have quite a few fires in the early days when people were using beer bottles to bung-up rabbit warrens. If the sunlight hit the bottle on the right angle it was like a magnifying glass and could start fires," he said.

"The worst fire was at an old feedlot, where they used to condition sheep for the live trade when it was all go.

"When they stopped exporting there was a lot of long grass left around and that started a huge fire."

Mr Simmons will be presented a 40-year service medal by the Forest and Rural Fire Association of New Zealand. Hylton McDemott from Maraetotara will be presented a 25-year service medal. Mr Simmons said he hoped his medal would encourage others to become volunteers in their communities.

"Not just the fire service, there are other community efforts as well.

"We have a Civil Defence group here now and they are looking for people as well.

"I would say being a volunteers gives you the skills which you would use in other avenues of your life without noticing it."

The award ceremony will be held at the Hawke's Bay Opera House in Hastings.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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