Kerikeri fire chief Les Wasson has been honoured for a quarter century's service to his community.
Wasson first joined the brigade as a lad of 19 when he was working for the then Bay of Islands Electric Power Board.
He would watch as one of his workmates, who happened to be deputy fire chief, raced off any time the siren went. The young Wasson didn't need any persuading when it was he suggested he sign up too.
Fast-forward several decades, to last Saturday at Kerikeri Sports Complex, and more than 200 people packed Kerikeri Sports Complex to watch as Wasson was awarded a Gold Star for 25 years' volunteer service.
His first stint with the brigade was brief, interrupted by a move to Tauranga and then Coromandel.
He returned to Kerikeri in 1995 with a wife and young family in tow.
''I'd hear the hooter going all night every night. That prompted me to join again.''
He was promoted to deputy fire chief in 2006 under Ralph Rogers and was made chief two years later.
Wasson has no idea how many callouts he's been to and can only say the time he has dedicated to the role is ''immeasurable''. So why do it?
''For the love of the community. I'm just giving back for what they've done for me over the years. They've given me a place to live, a place to enjoy life, a place to bring up my family — and you can't beat the fishing.''
The low points of the role were ''when you lose little kids''; the highlights were the good saves, the banter in the truck, and the sense of belonging to a big family.
Wasson said he was grateful to everyone who had helped put on Saturday's function, and to his deputies Greg Imms and more recently Kevin Graham.
''They've been rocks to me,'' he said.
Former Fire Service Muriwhenua area manager Allan Kerrisk read a speech penned by Kevin Graham, who was unwell, praising the extraordinary time and effort Wasson put into serving the community.
''It doesn't matter what the event is, you can count on Les being there to help and support,'' he said.
Those events ranged from Anzac and Waitangi Days to school raft races, Halloween nights and cadet training, and that wasn't mentioning the callouts of one of Northland's busiest brigades.
He was committed to brigade members and always conscious of protecting their free time, ironically using his own time to do so.
''While Les may nibble on your ear from time to time — and yes, my ears have had the odd nibble — Les would have your back instantly if you were in need and be the first to offer help and support if some misfortune happened in your life.''
Kerrisk awarded Wasson life membership of the brigade and also paid tribute to the support and sacrifice made by his wife, Christine.
Former Kaitaia fire chief Colin Kitchen, representing the United Fire Brigades Association, presented Wasson's Gold Star.
He said Fire and Emergency NZ hierarchy couldn't think of anyone who could match Wasson's 99 per cent attendance at brigade practices and training nights.
Nikki Colebrook, one of the Wassons' five children, made a moving speech about being a firefighter's daughter.
''We grew up with birthday parties, dinners, family events interrupted. We went most places in separate vehicles and it's still not uncommon that the pager will go off just as we sit down for dinner. But over the years I quickly realised, that it was in those times that he put on his superhero costume.''
Colebrook said the firefighters who had become her extended family were ''just everyday people'' but they were prepared to go the extra mile.
''When that siren goes, I know they will be there. I know they will drop whatever it may be to serve in the line of duty. Whether it be a cat up a tree, a serious motor vehicle accident or a family home burnt to the ground, along with my dad, they will be there.''
Earlier in the night awards were also presented to senior firefighter Glen Riley, qualified firefighter Edwin van Dijk and Brett Curtis, who was awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal for 14 years with the brigade.
Curtis offered an entertaining speech recounting, among many other incidents, a blaze at Calypso Takeaways. It was only when the smoke cleared that he realised the firefighters at the end of hose were named Hamberger and Bacon.
Gold Star : Chief Fire Officer Les Wasson
Long Service and Good Conduct Medal: Qualified Firefighter Brett Curtis
Two Year Gold Bar: Senior Firefighter Glen Riley
Two Year Silver Bar: Qualified Firefighter Edwin van Dijk, Senior Firefighter Craig Bacon