Chief gave 50 years

By Peter de Graaf

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Kaeo fire chief Lindsay Murray (right) is awarded his 50-year Gold Star by United Fire Brigades Association president (and Alexandra fire chief) Russell Anderson, while Kaeo's deputy fire chief Jo Sweet-Bennett applauds. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Kaeo fire chief Lindsay Murray (right) is awarded his 50-year Gold Star by United Fire Brigades Association president (and Alexandra fire chief) Russell Anderson, while Kaeo's deputy fire chief Jo Sweet-Bennett applauds. Photo / Peter de Graaf

In the past 50 years the Kaeo Fire Brigade has been called out 2757 times - and Lindsay Murray has been there for 97 per cent of those fires, crashes and medical emergencies.

For a 21-year period Mr Murray had a 100 per cent attendance record for call-outs and training nights. He has responded at all times of day and night, saved lives, homes and the odd pub, and witnessed tragedies. He was appointed fire chief in 1971, a post he has held for much of the past 45 years.

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Mr Murray's extraordinary record was honoured on Saturday when he was presented with a 50-year Gold Star in a function at Kaeo Rugby Club, attended by friends, family and Fire Service personnel from as far away as Otago.

Mr Murray joined on December 14, 1965, seven years after the brigade was founded. His first call-out was a chimney fire near Kaeo Hospital; only three people could fit in the Landrover that served as a fire engine in those days so he had to go in his 1937 Ford 10.

He recounted the pubs lost to fire (such as Kaeo's White Swan) and the pubs they'd saved (Whangaroa's Marlin Hotel); he also recalled the greatest tragedy, a house fire that claimed the lives of three children in Matauri Bay in 1997. Former deputy Sheryl Phillips read a police officer's letter about how he and Mr Murray had gathered the children's remains and the huge tangi that followed.

The greatest satisfaction had come from "good saves" such as the Marlin and the dairy and butcher's in Kaeo.

He had stayed because others looked to him to give the brigade stability at times of high turnover. He enjoyed helping other people and being a firefighter was one way of doing that, he said.

Event MC Wipari Henwood, deputy fire manager for the Far North, said he hadn't been born when Mr Murray joined the Fire Service, and he had served all 50 years in Kaeo.

"That's an incredible achievement," he said.

The medal was awarded by United Fire Brigades Association president Russell Anderson of Alexandra. He spoke of the sacrifices Mr Murray and his family, particularly his wife Kossleen, had made during the past 50 years.

The siren rarely sounded at a convenient time and the incidents the volunteers were called to were often difficult and unpleasant.

Kaeo senior station officer Les Jackson spoke of Mr Murray's "absolute" commitment, and not just to emergency call-outs. Mr Murray and his wife took part in every brigade function and always stayed to the end to help clean up.

Kaitaia fire chief and volunteer support officer Colin Kitchen summed it up when he said: "Lindsay, you made a difference".

Mr Murray, 73, taught at Kaeo Primary School for 38 years. After retiring from teaching he was hired by the Fire Service as a part-time educator alongside his volunteer role as fire chief; it was made a full-time position after a series of fire tragedies in the Far North. He also worked as a fire investigator, a job he only retired from a few years ago.

His is the second 50-year Gold Star in the Kaeo brigade. The other was awarded to John Wells in 2014. Six members have Gold Stars for 25 years service.

Also present at the award night were the new chairman of the Fire Service Commission, former MP Paul Swain; Far North Mayor John Carter; and Fire Service regional manger Kerry Gregory.

- Northern Advocate

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