Being a volunteer firefighter is no longer just about turning out when the siren goes off, Norsewood fire chief Terence Ahern says.

"A lot of people give up so much of their time to be a member of a brigade such as ours," he said. "They spend time training and attending courses around the country."

At a honours ceremony last Saturday, where long-serving volunteer Bernard Murphy retired after 37 years with the brigade, Nigel Hall, assistant area commander for the fire service in the eastern region, acknowledged not just the firefighters but their committed families.

Members of the Norsewood Volunteer Fire Brigade at an honours presentation and retirement function last Saturday. Absent were Kevin White and Julie Johnson. Photo / Christine McKay
Members of the Norsewood Volunteer Fire Brigade at an honours presentation and retirement function last Saturday. Absent were Kevin White and Julie Johnson. Photo / Christine McKay

"You all support our firefighters. You are amazing," he said. "Norsewood is one of my high-performing brigades and the New Zealand Fire Service would be nothing without the volunteers."

Advertisement

Volunteers make up 80 per cent of New Zealand's firefighters, and 15,000 firefighters will come under one umbrella when urban and rural fire brigades merge next year.

Mr Murphy knows all about the sacrifices families have to make to support a volunteer firefighter.

"I joined the Norsewood brigade in 1979, keen to help my community and there's also the camaraderie of being a brigade member, too," he said. "But being a firefighter can impact on your family. Two or three years ago, on November 27, I was out with the tanker and didn't get home until about 7pm. I remember the date because it was my wife's birthday and we were going out to dinner, but because of the call-out we didn't."

However, after 37 years with the brigade, Mr Murphy admitted it would be hard not responding when the siren went off: "I'll want to know what's happening, so it'll be difficult, but I'm 66 and past my use-by date. I've a dicky ankle which can be a problem on uneven ground and I don't want to be one of those who has to be rescued."

Mr Murphy said there was always an element of excitement when the siren went off, but the call-outs could be difficult.

"Fortunately I've only had to attend one call-out which involved a child - they're the hardest," he said. "And when we attend a house fire, we know who the people are who live there."

But calls to house fires have reduced for the Norsewood brigade, thanks, Mr Hall said, to the fire prevention and education work brigade members carry out.

Nigel Hall (left), assistant area commander for the Fire Service in the eastern region; Terence Ahern, Norsewood fire chief; with Emily Hullah, 21, and Jorden Seerden, 17. Photo / Christine McKay
Nigel Hall (left), assistant area commander for the Fire Service in the eastern region; Terence Ahern, Norsewood fire chief; with Emily Hullah, 21, and Jorden Seerden, 17. Photo / Christine McKay

And while the Norsewood brigade is losing Mr Murphy and firefighter Brad Edwards, who is transferring to Dannevirke Volunteer Fire Brigade and hoping to join the police force, the rural brigade is fortunate in having two newcomers: Jorden Seerden, 17, and Emily Hullah, 21. Both have been attending practices for the past year and Mr Ahern is hoping they'll serve the Norsewood community well as they begin their recruit training.

Ms Hullah is following in the footsteps of her mother, Amanda Friemann, who has been in the brigade for 12 years.

"We'll be the first mother and daughter in the Norsewood brigade," she said.

Ms Hullah also has an uncle who is a firefighter and her great-great-great-grandfather was a fire chief in Otaki.

"I've just become engaged and I'm staying in Norsewood, so the decision to join the brigade was easy."

Jorden will be the first in his family to serve in the brigade and says volunteering will help him get into the police force.

Norsewood Volunteer Fire Brigade honours presentation:

* Gold bars: Terence Ahern, 29 years; Bernard Murphy, 37 years; Roger Montgomery, 40 years; Ian ("Tug") O'Brien, 42 years.

* Queen's Service clasp: Terence Ahern and Bernard Murphy.

* Bars and medals: Julie Johnson, operation support, 11 years; Kenneth Foster, 11 years; Kevin White, 11 years; Amanda Friemann, 11 years; Neil Paton, 13 years; Sarena Montgomery, 15 years; Shane Veale, 17 years; Stuart Radcliffe, 19 years; Wayne Montgomery, 23 years.

* Five-year medals: Amy Domper and Brad Edwards.