A fire chief honoured for bravery after an iconic Northland building was destroyed by arson says he'd swap the award ''in a heartbeat'' for a few more volunteer firefighters.
On April 30 this year Kohukohu's 130-year-old Masonic Lodge burnt to the ground in an early morning fire so fierce it threatened to ignite nearby houses.
The lodge itself — which had been converted to a home with the owner just weeks away from moving in — could not be saved but three volunteer firefighters and a handful of locals managed to stop the fire spreading further until backup arrived.
It was a close call with one home, Lea Craddock's Lavender Cottage, minutes away from combustion.
Three firefighters and four residents were honoured in a ceremony at the Far North District Council chambers on Thursday.
Kohukohu fire chief Neil Matheson downplayed the firefighters' bravery, saying they were just doing their job of trying to achieve the best possible result with the resources available.
If anyone had been brave it was the residents who weren't trained to deal with emergencies but had stepped up ''without a second thought'' to save their neighbours' homes.
The first firefighters on the scene just after 4am were Eva Walker and Lindsey Davidson. Matheson lives out of town so he instructed them to go ahead and start without him.
They were assisted by residents Sean Butler, Brian Crooks, and Shannon and Malcolm Tindal, who did what they could with garden hoses initially then helped the firefighters attack the lodge fire and protect surrounding homes.
Matheson said the incident highlighted the brigade's struggle to recruit volunteers.
''The three of us would without a heartbeat exchange this award for a few extra firefighters.''
Lea Craddock, who was among those at the ceremony, said it was thanks to the award recipients that she still had her home of 40 years.
''That house is my life.''
Neighbours kept hosing her house with water while others removed precious mementoes such as family photos.
The heat was enough to melt spouting, strip paint and break 10 windows, she said.
She was still amazed by how calm, collected and efficient the firefighters were. She also still woke up fearful when she heard noises at night.
Sean Butler, a former police officer, said the heat was so intense he had to turn the hose on himself to avoid getting burnt.
Far North Mayor John Carter, who presented the awards, praised the recipients' bravery.
Kohukohu had lost a much-loved icon and a Category II historic building but without their ''heroic efforts'' much more would have been lost.
Matheson said the Kohukohu brigade currently had nine members but needed at least 15.
The brigade, and Fire and Emergency NZ, had tried every avenue they could think of to get more recruits, but the town just didn't have enough people able to join.
Anyone keen to help was welcome at the station any Wednesday from 6pm.