A much-loved St John ambulance officer has hung up his uniform for the last time after 24 years rushing to medical emergencies and saving lives.

Gary Bishell was the first paid ambulance officer at Mount Maunganui and has served countless members of the community in his time.

In his retirement, he was looking forward to fishing and sailing more - two of his passions.

"It's time to relax and see what the Bay has to offer."

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Working with people was the major highlight in the "very rewarding" career.

"I had a philosophy of making a difference to everyone I attended.

"Even if they're the odd abusive drunk, you walk away knowing you've made that difference."

He began his career as a volunteer paramedic in 1989 and became a qualified paramedic the following year before picking up a job at Palmerston North in 1990.

In 1995, he made the move to Mount Maunganui and had his first day on the job on March 20.

He first worked at a building opposite the New World on Mount Maunganui Rd and remembers heading out on jobs in an ancient Isuzu manual ambulance that ran on diesel.

The highlights of the last decade included the planning and fundraising for the new ambulance building in 1998.

While many of the jobs he did were medical calls helping residents, there were many thrilling moments, such as rescuing people off the port.

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He has two children - a daughter who lives in London and a son based in Cairns, both of whom have two of their own children.

Despite having the excuse to travel abroad during his break, his love for the Mount previously did not tempt him overseas.

"I'd rather have my summer at the Mount."

St John Tauranga district operations manager Jeremy Gooders said Bishell would be missed as a great team member and manager.

"Gary made a significant contribution over an extended period of time, and his help and input was valued."

St John held a farewell party for the departing hero on Tuesday.