Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Photo recall: Fireman's short story still gives his mates long laugh

Grant Reay's fighting spirit proved that you can't judge recruits by their size

Photo / Mark Mitchell, Photo research / Emma Land
Photo / Mark Mitchell, Photo research / Emma Land

Lift, click, drop. That's how long it took Grant Reay to land himself in the Herald 23 years ago. The ribbing from his firefighting colleagues lingered longer, and the Ponsonby Fire Station officer expects it will crank up again with the photo's re-publication.

Some things never change.

Then again, some do, and that's what a dangling Reay's grinning mug in the newspaper all those years ago was about.

Then a fresh-faced 25-year-old, Reay was part of the first training course when the Fire Service dropped its 1.7m height restriction on "humanitarian grounds".

At 1.65m, Reay was the shortest on his nine-week course. It was no barrier. The former furniture salesman finished first, although 23 years on he remains humble about his success.

"It probably came down to quarter of a per cent in an exam."

Finishing first was good, being photographed for the newspaper was less pleasing.

At least it was over quickly. Reay's two tallest colleagues, David Rensford and Barton Rhodes, hoisted him into the air at the request of Herald photographer Mark Mitchell. Click. The task was a walk in the park for the newbies who would soon be fighting fires and mopping up after car crashes.

"We'd been carrying each other down ladders over the previous few weeks, but we were probably thinking 'how bizarre'." And although the height restriction had just been dropped there were already people shorter than Reay in the service. Stricter rules only came in during the 1970s and 80s, including an age limit of 26 for recruits.

Their removal was right, Reay said. "I've got a guy now who has started and he's in his 40s. We've got a lot of people with life skills that they can bring into the organisation."

Now a 48-year-old father of two, Reay has never regretted his decision to follow his grandfather and uncle into the service. "It's a great job. I haven't got aspirations to be a chief as I like to be on the trucks. You get that thing of helping people, like people trapped in a car crash, they're not getting out of that car unless you get them out.

"I'll be here until I retire."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 24 Sep 2014 02:36:32 Processing Time: 479ms