When Greg Imms joined the Kerikeri Fire Brigade its 12 members could expect to respond to 11 callouts a year.
Their appliance, built during World War II, had room for two in the cab while the rest of the crew perched on the water tank.
Fifty years later the brigade has more than 30 volunteers who respond to almost 300 callouts a year, most of which aren't fires. But one thing that hasn't changed is Mr Imms, who still responds when the siren sounds — he has notched up an extraordinary 92 per cent attendance rate over the past 50 years — and still keeps the fire station running smoothly behind the scenes.
On Saturday night that service was recognised with the awarding of his double Gold Star.
He had joined half a century ago, he said, to have a good time with a bunch of mates with similar interests.
"If you'd told me when I'd joined I'd still be here in 50 years I'd say you had rocks in your head, but it gets in your blood," he said.
"It's not only what you give to the community. It gives you self-esteem, confidence and purpose in life. I'd still think twice about saying I enjoy it, but it's like anything, you get out as much as you put in."
A great deal had changed since the early days, when firefighters spent more time fundraising for equipment than putting out fires. These days their equipment and fire engines were provided, but the volunteers were expected to spend a lot more time training.
The former deputy Chief Fire Officer had no plans to quit — "Not tomorrow anyway" — but he would stand back a little more and make way for younger members to step up.
Meanwhile more than 200 people, including firefighters, family members and community leaders, gathered at the Turner Centre to honour Mr Imms' 50-year volunteer contribution. Fire and Emergency NZ Muriwhenua area commander Wipari Henwood described him as a poutokomanawa, the central post of a wharenui, or meeting house, which is key to the stability of the entire building. He also paid tribute to Mr Imms' wife, Vivienne, and the sacrifice made by volunteers' families.
MC Dave Clark, a former Kerikeri firefighter, said every brigade needed someone like Greg Imms. The amount of time he had given over the past 50 years was "incalculable".
The medal was pinned to Mr Imms' tunic by former United Fire Brigades Association president and Kaitaia CFO Colin Kitchen, who said he was just the second firefighter in Kerikeri to receive the honour, after the late Ralph Rogers, and the 15th in Northland.
Others who paid tribute to him included FENZ deputy chief executive Kerry Gregory, Mayor John Carter, Northland MP Matt King and police inspector Chris McLellan.
The evening also had 14-year service and good conduct medals presented to deputy CFO Kevin Graham, station officer Andy Hamberger and qualified firefighter Ngaia Cruden.