The New Zealand Fire Service has presented well over 1000 Gold Stars to firefighters who have given 25 years' service, paid and voluntary, to the protection of people and property, but double Gold Stars are much rarer.

Rodger Beatson, who responded to his first alarm 52 years ago, was just the 50th recipient when he received his medal on Monday, an occasion shared not only with his family and fellow firefighters but his friends at Kaitaia Abundant Life School, where he is the caretaker.

Kaitaia CFO and volunteer support officer Colin Kitchen made the presentation in a packed school auditorium, while students acknowledged him with a rousing haka.

"For many in our town, Papa Rodger is a hero," Abundant Life cultural adviser Pops Arona said.


"I remember when I was little, hearing people refer to him as 'Chief'. Papa Rodger is honoured in this place. I reckon when he turns up at a fire, the fire just runs way. Of all the places we could have this presentation, we are blessed to have it here."

Fellow Ahipara fireman Terry Te Pania, whose association with Mr Beatson via the brigade stretched back some 30 years, credited him with sparking his interest in joining the brigade.

"We've been to many fires together and have a lot of stories," he said.

"I've told him of late to retire and go and enjoy his family, but he says they're too high-maintenance, and fighting fires is easier. On behalf of the Ahipara Fire Brigade, thank you for having us."

Born in Kaitaia in 1945, the youngest of four children, Mr Beatson was educated at Kaitaia Primary and College, moving to Ahipara at the age of 12. The father of three daughters worked at Kaitaia's timber mill for 30 years, was the Kaitaia Golf Club's greenkeeper for two years, and took up the caretaker's role at Abundant Life in 2007. He has served as a volunteer firefighter for 52 years, 38 of them as CFO at Ahipara. He is also the patron of Ahipara Surf Rescue, twice competed at the World Firefighting Games, served as an honorary fisheries officer, a DOC fire officer, a jailer for the police in Kaitaia, an ambulance officer and Justice of the Peace.

A deacon of the Kaitaia Baptist Church for 15 years, he has taken part in mission work in Vanuatu, Fiji and Jakarta.

With a firefighting career that has not infrequently placed him in danger of serious injury or death, his day begins at 5.30am with a cup of tea and reading the Bible, while his favourite pastimes include trap shooting and fishing.

In 2005 he was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for service to the community, in 2007 he was named one of New Zealand's Unsung Heroes, and in 2011 he was a Senior New Zealander of the Year finalist.


"These are not small things, they are huge things," acting principal Wes Braddock said.

"It is so great to be able to honour these people who put their lives on the line for us all. Rodger is a man who has achieved so much in his life, and yet this is the man who is willing to pick up our rubbish. He possesses incredible talents and giving and grace.

"I would like all you students to stop and think over what you've just heard. Think about what people may say about your life in 50 years' time. Thank you Mr Beatson, for being a great example to us all."

Mr Kitchen, representing the United Fire Brigades' Association, described Mr Beatson as a role model, and humble man of mana and integrity. And he was delighted with the venue chosen for the presentation.

"I'm sure [the students] will strive for excellence as our man Rodger here has done," he said.

"And thank you to Rodger's whanau for their support. They are the unsung heroes. He could not have done this alone."

An emotional Mr Beatson thanked everyone for the acknowledgement he had received. This was actually the first school assembly he had attended, and he was very impressed, not least by the respect and grace shown by the students.

"The Fire Service is the best club in the world," he added.

"It is a big brotherhood and sisterhood, speaking of which, Ahipara was the first fire brigade in New Zealand to have a female firefighter." (It was also home to the country's first all-female brigade, in the 1960s).

He acknowledged all the firefighters he had served with, and paid tribute to his family, especially his wife Iri, "for looking after me with all my cuts and burns". He also thanked Mr Kitchen, who he remembered as a child, chasing fires on his bike.

"He is passionate, and that's important," he said.

"Hold on to your passions in life, and be passionate about what you do."

Mrs Beatson said it was "an absolute privilege and honour" to stand before the school.

"You have all had a lot of input into Rodger's life too," she said.

"And remember, Papa Rodger was once like you, a little boy born and raised in Kaitaia. All the things he has done in his life, all of you can achieve that."