Call for young volunteers as firefighters retire

By Christine McKay

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DEDICATED VOLUNTEER: Weber's rural firefighter Harvie Beetham was presented with his long service medal last year.
DEDICATED VOLUNTEER: Weber's rural firefighter Harvie Beetham was presented with his long service medal last year.

The Weber rural fire crew has lost two of its dedicated volunteers, and it's now time for young ones to step up.

Harvie Beetham and Ken Cameron, both original members with more than 70 years of voluntary service between them, have sold their farms and have moved to the Hawke's Bay with their wives.

"Our real problem is a lack of young men to take over," Mr Beetham told the Dannevirke News. "Everyone is getting a bit ancient and none of us has been getting up the hills like we used to."

Paddy Driver, the principal rural fire officer for the Tararua District Council, said he recognised the population was reducing in our rural areas and he had concerns as rural fire crews tried to attract younger volunteers.

"With these old fellas retiring, it's creating vacancies which will need to be filled," said Mr Driver.

"Our rural fire crews not only respond to fires and motor-vehicle accidents, they're also there when there is a civil defence emergency.

"Both Harvie and Ken have been valued members of the rural firefighting team. They are incredible guys and we will be losing those skills."

A volunteer with the Weber rural fire force for 35 years, Mr Beetham was one of the original people in the crew, along with Mr Cameron.

"I got shanghaied into it," Mr Beetham said. "I was told I was the secretary and that was it."

But he said he was going to miss the camaraderie.

"I haven't even got my head around our new life in the Bay yet. But the one thing I know has helped our rural fire crews has been the contribution of resources and money from the Tararua District Council and its ratepayers.

"When I first began with the brigade, we purchased our own secondhand equipment and begged and borrowed, but now we're quite well-funded and that's a dramatic improvement."

"Making do" were the buzz words for the small rural brigade when it first began in the mid 1970s.

"I can remember our first callout and it was a chapter of incidents," Mr Cameron said.

"Our local school committee chairman was at the school with headmaster Colin Taylor when the siren went. The only equipment we had was an old pump which had been used in Britain during the blitz."

Mr Taylor and chairman Bryce Franklin had hooked the trailer with the pump on behind Mr Franklin's ute.

"Unfortunately, they hadn't hooked it on properly and it (the trailer) passed them on the way down the road."

Mr Cameron had been with the brigade for all its 35 years, some of that time as fire chief.

"I joined because it was a community thing to do," he said.

In a rural district like Weber, the volunteer firefighters had had to turn out to a wide range of callouts.

"You name it, we've had it," Mr Beetham said.

"From house fires to road accidents and now with forestry going full tilt, if there's a major fire it will be all on. It just takes a car or a truck to go over the edge."

With so much long grass in the district at the moment, Mr Beetham said it wouldn't take much to have a major fire.

"However, I think people have become more fire wary and they give it a bit more thought and don't light fires nilly-willy."

Mr Driver said resources for the rural brigades were vitally important.

"We've managed to secure funding from the Rural Fire Authority for things such as a new vehicle," he said. "It's funding which was well overdue.

"These guys are fighting fires in dangerous situations so they should have the right gear such as radios. They are in what's called a high-reliability area and could get killed doing the job, so they should have the best gear."

Mr Driver said he was not sure what would happen to the rural fire service as there was currently a review under way.

"By 2017 there will be new legislation in place because the Government is dead keen to make it happen," he said. "I don't know how that will affect us and what shape that review will be."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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