Only wedding day stopped Dave 'Squid' McKenzie in 50 years of service

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Dave "Squid" McKenzie.
Dave "Squid" McKenzie.

Only once in 46 years of marriage has Dave McKenzie's wife Pat given him an "oh no you don't" look when the call-to-duty siren sounds across town.

Dave, or "Squid" as he's known, celebrated 50 years' service to Kaitaia Volunteer Fire Brigade on Saturday, and recalls the 1971 day Pat put her foot down.

"The siren went, I did a bit of a jump. She gave me a nudge and said 'you can't go'.

"I wasn't going to anyway. We were standing at the altar in Kaitaia chapel about to say our wedding vows."

Unfortunately it did mean losing a few wedding guests, as the many firemen present scarpered out the door.

"They managed to get back in time for the reception."

It's one of the many quirky, funny, and sometimes sad stories Squid has added to his repertoire over half a century of volunteering, a cause he took up as a 20-year-old after seeing an advertisement for volunteers in The Northland Age.

He joined on October 12, 1966, along with local men Terry Sullivan and the late George Hodson. The first fire Squid went to was a house fire at Mangatoetoe Rd.

And the biggest blaze was the Princess Theatre, which burned down in April 1990.

A report in the Age described how firefighters battled for three hours to save the building.

Firefighter Colin Kitchen - then third officer, now fire chief - used an axe to smash a door to get inside the theatre, where the heat was so intense it melted one side of his visor. The theatre was the last wooden building on Commerce St.

"I was on the roof of the building next door spraying water over it," Squid said.

At the fire's height, 18 hoses were being used and tenants of neighbouring buildings started removing their belongings.

Over the years, Squid's focus turned away from hands-on firefighting.

After three Far North children died in a house fire in the late 1980s, the service asked Squid if he would move into fire safety.

He was promoted to station officer and now travels around schools from Te Hapua to Maungamuka, as well as doing fire safety checks in people's homes.

He still chuckles about the time he was called back twice to visit an elderly lady whose smoke alarm would not stop beeping.

Dave and Pat McKenzie cut the cake they've worked hard for for 50 years.
Dave and Pat McKenzie cut the cake they've worked hard for for 50 years.

"I was just going to bed, the phone rang and it was the same lady saying 'it's beeping' ... I went straight up there.

"I went in the direction of the beeping and closed the fridge door. The beeping stopped. She'd made herself a cup of tea and left the fridge door open."

The lady, "most embarrassed", asked Squid not to recount the story.

"I said 'well I am going to but I won't tell them who you are'."

With safety promotion "you don't know how many lives you're saving", Squid said.

During a recent home fire safety check, he asked a young woman there what she would do if she woke up to a house filled with smoke.

"She said, 'I would get low, get out, stay out, then I would go to my safe place'," Squid said.

"I must've looked surprised because she said 'you told me that when you came to my school, that would be 15 years ago'."

Dave "Squid" McKenzie was awarded his 50-year Service Medal at a ceremony on Saturday night attended by his family and more than 150 friends.

- Northland Age

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