Bill Whitehorn would not be able to begin counting how many times he has walked - or run - into the Mangonui fire station, but Saturday night was different.
He and wife Leslie were welcomed with a guard of honour when they arrived for the brigade's honours night, the highlight of which was the presentation of Bill's 50-year Gold Star, just the 218th medal earned over the last 140 years.
The medal was presented by Colin Kitchen, past president of the United Fire Brigades' Association, who tendered an apology from Minister of Internal Affairs Tracey Martin.
The UFBA medals, he said, were designed to acknowledge committed and generous volunteer fire brigade members for the time they gave without recompense, on the frontline or supporting the operation of their stations, training and attending community events.
"Time is the most precious thing we have, and the most precious thing we can give anyone," he said, "and I sincerely thank fellow firefighters for all you do in helping to keep our communities safe."
The awarding of a 50-year medal was a very special occasion, however. Ninety-six per cent of firefighters left the service before they qualified for a 25-year Gold Star, SSO Whitehorn having received his in 1995. Only 0.3 per cent went on to earn their 50-year medal.
Bill's "selfless" service began when he joined the Warkworth Volunteer Fire Brigade on April 28, 1970, when Keith Holyoake was Prime Minister, a six-pack of beer cost $1.98, the average car cost $3500 and a gallon of petrol was 36 cents.
He served in Warkworth for 32 years, then transferring to Mangonui for another 18 years. During that 50 years he recorded an attendance rate of 94 per cent.
"That is true dedication and commitment," Kitchen said.
He was also a past president and a life member of the Auckland Provincial Gold Star Association, had had a stint running fire brigade competitions, and represented the Warkworth brigade at the national championships in Hastings "many moons ago."
He had proved to be a great asset to the Mangonui brigade, where he was a member of the brigade management committee and the health and safety officer. His daytime manning of the appliances had been second to none, while he had happily passed on his wealth of knowledge to all brigade members, especially to new recruits.
"I would also like to speak on behalf of the countless number of people you have saved, supported and been a tower of strength for in their time of crisis, whether it was at a fire, a car crash, a rescue or a medical event," Kitchen added.
"There is no a list or way of measurement, but reflection afterwards, no words, just a smile in a humble way.
"I would also like to speak on behalf of the ones you have lost and tried so desperately to save. Their families are not here tonight, but without a doubt they would acknowledge your service. I am sure that at times over your five decades as a volunteer there have been private moments with your family after a tragic event where you have asked yourself why, and how much more can I take? This is multiplied by the fact that in a small community we serve our families, friends, and everyone knows each other."
He also acknowledge Bill's family, particularly his wife Leslie, who had shared his journey for more than 50 plus, and had played a crucial role in his half-decade of service.
"Thank you Leslie for being a part of the fire brigade family, and particularly in the peer support space."
Other awards were presented to:
14-year long service and good conduct medal: Joe Leslie and Alan Moros.
Two-year-silver bar: Antony Pederson (22 years), Greg Beeson (17 years) and Mark Donnelly (17 years).
Two-year-gold bar: Les Barclay (29 years) and Bill Whitehorn (50 years).
Three-year certificates: Heather Moffat, Tracy Graham, Rob Duirs and Patrick Jennings.
Honorary life memberships were presented to Bill Whitehorn, Les Barclay and Antony Pederson.