Fifty years of fighting fires and ready for more

By Peter de Graaf

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Senior firefighter Jim Powdrill in his Kaikohe Fire Museum. Photo/Peter de Graaf
Senior firefighter Jim Powdrill in his Kaikohe Fire Museum. Photo/Peter de Graaf

A Northland firefighter has served an extraordinary 50 years as a volunteer with the Kaikohe brigade - and he would have clocked up even more if he'd been allowed to join when he first applied.

Senior firefighter Jim Powdrill received his 50 Year Medal in a ceremony at the Kaikohe RSA on Saturday night.

Mr Powdrill said he had wanted to join the brigade since he was a boy, and used to pedal down to the park to help roll up hoses after firefighting competitions. He applied when he turned 20 but the brigade had a full complement of volunteers. He had to wait three years before a firefighter left town, making a space for him.

That meant he missed his chance to fight one of Kaikohe's biggest fires when the brand-new Memorial Hall burned down before its official opening. The sound of the fibrolite panels exploding "sounded like the Jerries coming over the hill".

He was finally allowed to join on November 18, 1963. One of his first fires was the 1964 blaze that destroyed Kawakawa's Junction Hotel, where the Klondike stands today.

The Kawakawa brigade had sucked the mains dry so Mr Powdrill and other Kaikohe volunteers set up on the railway bridge and pumped from the creek.

Other memorable blazes included a scrub fire at Ngawha which burnt for five days in 1973 and the loss of Kaikohe's New World supermarket in 2005. A few plane and car crashes were also etched in his memory.

Over the past 50 years the number of call-outs had soared - from 40-50 a year in the 1960s to 220 last year - and an increasing proportion were car crashes or medical emergencies.

Mr Powdrill, who trained as a motor mechanic but later worked in a plant nursery, said he had no plans to hang up his helmet and still went to most training nights.

"I love the camaraderie, I love the people in the brigade. They're all in it for the same reason, to help the community."

The brigade had also become an extended family. His son, Wayne Powdrill, is a firefighter of 15 years' experience and he even got married in the brigade's old Ford fire truck.

Mr Powdrill also runs Kaikohe's Fire Museum, next to his Heke St home.

- Northern Advocate

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