Mayor John Carter has attended numerous Gold Star presentations to long-serving Far North firefighters, and has never had trouble finding the appropriate words.
It was a different story on Saturday night though, when he joined those who paid tribute to Kerikeri firefighter Greg Imms, who received his double Gold Star at the Turner Centre, when he was awarded a Gold Star of his own.
"It came completely out of the blue," Mr Carter said, one of those who was there saying that for the first time she had seen him with tears in his eyes, and speechless.
Mr Carter, who is believed to be the first non-brigade member ever to receive a Gold Star, said he had never been a firefighter but had been closely involved with many brigades over his 24 years as a Member of Parliament, six years as Mayor, and even earlier, back to 1968, as an employee of the Hokianga County Council.
Before that he had been the secretary of the Kaiwaka brigade, and later helped build the Piopio fire station. Since then he had been actively supportive of the Rawene, Kohukohu and Omapere brigades, and had had a long association with others, including Okaihau and Paihia.
He initially confessed that he had never actually extinguished a fire, although he had started a few, until he remembered an occasion in the 1980s, when a hedge burst into flames in Rawene, almost opposite the fire station.
"Their truck didn't run very well," he said.
"They had to push-start it, and by the time they arrived I had beaten it out with a spade."
Kerikeri's Chief Fire Officer, Les Wasson, said Mr Carter's lack of actual firefighting experience was more than outweighed by the support he had given, however.
"We made the presentation in recognition of all he has done over the last 25 years," Mr Wasson said. "It was very well deserved."
■Half a century of service — page 3.