Fifty years' volunteer service 'a big ask' but worth it

By Erika Venter

Max Mackay on Saturday was awarded the prestigious United Fire Brigade association 50-year medal for his service to the Eltham Volunteer Fire Brigade, raising the bar on community commitment.

"It used to be 25 years was a huge milestone, now it is 50," Eltham's new chief fire officer David Waite joked before the ceremony.

The Eltham team is not short of milestones, with Norm Commerer, last year before his death, receiving his 50 year-medal and David, Kevin Barry, Lloyd Gernhoefer, and Max's son, Ken, last year receiving their 25-year gold stars.

Max's reply on receiving the recognition was a modest "I just did my best for my community".

He says the camaraderie in the service is what drew him back year after year and why he still has no plans of retiring from volunteering at the brigade.

Max (74) at age 24 had to forego playing rugby due to a recurring shoulder problem - he had just made the Taranaki team, he says, and was asked by the then fire chief Roy Glentworth and Norman to join the brigade as they needed another person on their waterway fire brigade competition team.

Max's commitment never wavered. A self-employed builder, he in the 1980s employed two fellow fire fighters. "So when the siren went, the whole firm closed down."

"We are a strong brigade. Every member is prepared to do the training and put the time in to do the best they can. It is satisfying to be part of a great team of people. Everyone contributes in different ways, and such are the skills and talents in our brigade it is easy to tap into someone's expertise in a certain field."

The current station is testimony to Max's expertise, having been planned by Max in 1970 with few changes by the architect.

Max says though a lot has changed for the brigade over the years, people and water are the two constants. In his 50 years Max has attended over 4000 musters, meetings and fire calls. In the Eltham's brigade's 110 years there have been nine chief fire officers and Max has served under five. Max is the author of The First Hundred Years of the Eltham Volunteer Fire Brigade, published in 2002 for the brigade's centennial.

"They call me the brigade historian," says Max, adding that he has kept scrapbooks since first in the chair of secretary/treasurer 33 years ago - positions he still holds.

He says one of his proudest moments in the brigade was the part his sons, Kevin and Ken, played in the Eltham team winning the national United Fire Brigade competition in 2003, and when they were awarded life membership of the Eltham brigade. Kevin, who lives in Egmont Village, has since retired from fire fighting. Ken is still serving in Eltham and last year received his 25-year medal.

He says his hope is on one of his four grandsons, the eldest being 13, to follow in this family tradition.

"It [the fire brigade] is the best service organisation in the country anyone can belong to.

"It is a big ask, but it is worth it," he says proudly, honouring his wife Doreen whose support, he says, made it possible for him to receive the medal.

- Stratford Press

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