Reporter sees Guy Fawkes action first hand

By Sarah Harris

Firefighters Warren Samuels, station officer David Wood, Tony Fill and Sam Crowther ready for work on Guy Fawkes day. Photo / Sarah Harris
Firefighters Warren Samuels, station officer David Wood, Tony Fill and Sam Crowther ready for work on Guy Fawkes day. Photo / Sarah Harris

The firefighters double check their gear ahead of what is traditionally the busiest night of the year.

Everything is good to go when the siren blares for the first call of the night. The crew are all business, they jump out of their lazy-boys and head, directly but calmly, to the truck.

We are at a nearby park within minutes. It turns out a small bonfire had been lit and put out before we arrive. They stamp out the few remaining embers and call it a job well done.

Avondale fire crew off to inspect a bonfire. Photo / Sarah Harris
Avondale fire crew off to inspect a bonfire. Photo / Sarah Harris

I spent Saturday evening with the Avondale fire crew envisioning all the trouble fireworks would cause. But the times are changing and Guy Fawkes no longer leaves the trail of chaos and destruction it has in previous years.

The fire service received 402 calls overnight nationwide. Of those calls, 67 were fireworks related. Many were for vegetation fires and bonfires.

What struck me on the call out was how happy the public were to see the firemen, kids danced around them, people came to look and a woman told them everything she knew about the little bonfire. The crew admitted that they get a much warmer welcome than police often get.

Ride-alongs have a reputation for jinxing the station with an exceptionally quiet night when someone is there to watch. Unfortunately this was my case and we only went to one minor call-out.

Station officer David Wood welcomed me onto the grand tour where I learnt the truck carries 1.5 tonnes of water and is fitted with all sorts of crowbars, axes, and picks for the crew to tear their way into burning homes. I was shown the "jaws of life" (giant pliers for cutting people out of cars) and the peculiar ladder that ascends into the clouds from the courtyard is used for climbing practice.

The tower the crew can practice their climbing on. Photo / Sarah Harris
The tower the crew can practice their climbing on. Photo / Sarah Harris

The fire station is like a boarding school. Crew have their own bedrooms, there's a lazy-boy for each of them in the lounge and they take turns making a family meal every night. That doesn't distract them from their job though, when the siren goes their kitchen equipment automatically turns off and the bedroom lights come on. All the crew have to focus on is getting out the door.

With no calls by 9pm it was becoming evident that the "ride-along curse" may actually exist. We could hear fireworks blasting all around us and the surrounding stations Mt Roskill, Grey Lynn and Te Atatu had been called out, but not us.

"That's just the way it rolls sometimes," said Wood.

Warren Samuels barbecuing meat for a hearty dinner. Photo / Sarah Harris
Warren Samuels barbecuing meat for a hearty dinner. Photo / Sarah Harris

Wood, who's been in the service for 35 years, said Guy Fawkes has steadily gotten quieter. It used to be the busiest night of the year with crews scurrying from one job to the next. In the last couple of years they're lucky to get a couple of call outs. Now he doesn't think fireworks will be available to the public within the decade.

"Ten years ago you used to be up all night going from fire to fire.

"People were a lot less careful and there wasn't the education either."

Wood puts the reduced call-outs down to the age and time restrictions on buying the explosives and lots of the big fireworks like sky rockets are now unavailable to the public.

"Sky rockets were a big cause, as after the explosion they came down as a big ember."

That's not the only thing that's changed over time. When Wood first started furnishings were made of natural fibres, now everything is made from foam and plastic which can cause houses to go up in minutes.

Despite the drama and sporadic stress of the job I can tell the crew love it. They have all been in the service for years and don't seem to be tempted by other career options. Working four days off, four days on seems to be a big drawcard for the men.

But the best part of the job is the friendship that comes with it, Wood said. The crew chuckle about the marriages they've saved sitting around the dinner table and the best (and worst) meals they've shared. They often use humour to get them through some of the tough scenes they attend.

Wood admits it's a great job.

"It's the camaraderie of the crews and the interaction we have with the public and the unknown - you never know what's going to happen next."

- NZ Herald

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