By Christine McKay

Eric Bonny has lived in Woodville all his life and his outstanding commitment to the community is just what you do, he says.

And although he's been awarded a Queen's Service Medal in today's Queen's Birthday honours, Mr Bonny said he's always regarded himself as a team player.

"I believe in being part of a team, so it's overwhelming to receive recognition like this. I've enjoyed what I've given to this community and never expected accolades or recognition. I do what I do willingly," he said.

Mr Bonny joined the Woodville Volunteer Fire Brigade 34 years ago - just to help out for a few years.

"The fire deputy said they wanted some younger members and I was young in those days. I was quite happy to do my bit for three or four years and then let someone younger take over, but I'm still here today," he said.

The Woodville chief fire officer for last six years and in a leadership role in the brigade for 30, Mr Bonny said the brigade is in good heart.

"Although young people still leave town for employment, we've a complement of 20 volunteers, and with three new recruits coming on and another waiting in the wings, we're in the best state we've been in for a few years," he said.

And while he's attended many gruelling callouts, it's what he describes as the Woodville brigade's worst day that bring tears to his eyes.

On July 7, 1993, the brigade was called out to a location on a narrow and winding gravel road.

The engine carrying six crew members was being driven by a highly skilled and extremely competent driver, John Agnew. On the return journey to the station, Mr Agnew slowed the truck to set up his approach to a bridge.

The truck lost traction and the back slid out, rolling once or twice, landing in a creek 50m below the road.

Many of the men, including Mr Bonny, were trapped and injured. Tragically, Mr Agnew lost his life in the crash.

"I prefer not to dwell on that," Mr Bonny said.

A leading water and wastewater engineer for the Tararua District Council for the past 25 years and previously, when self employed, a council sub-contractor for 11 years, Mr Bonny admits water and wastewater are his passion.

" I love the challenge of coming up with innovative and cost-effective solutions," he said. "But I prefer to be working behind the scenes, I don't like being in the limelight."

But devotion to the job isn't just an eight-hour commitment. Mr Bonny said he spends double that time, seven days a week, working on simple solutions to complex problems. "I like to find ways of improving systems and saving the council and ratepayer's money. My principal is, simple is best. I'm always trying to find cost-effective solutions because our community can't afford costly projects."

And while he's often at the forefront of water issues which have plagued his hometown, Mr Bonny concedes he hasn't had to face the ire of the community.

"Fortunately, I haven't had too many people trying to have a crack at me. For 103 years Woodville has always suffered from taste and odour issues in its town water, but that's all about to change, with the commissioning of a new plant.

"I spend a lot of after-hours time, probably to the detriment of family life, working, but I enjoy what I do," he said. "I'm also very fortunate the Tararua District Council is so proactive and forward-thinking and allows my team to put forward upgrade plans for our water systems throughout the district. I like being out there getting results, but I can't do it alone. It's all about team work."

Tararua district mayor Roly Ellis said the work done by Mr Bonny had been fantastic.

"He's saved this community a vast amount of money we've been able to put into other projects. Eric has also made a huge commitment to the Woodville Fire Brigade, despite being terribly injured in the accident in 1993."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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