Two volunteer firefighters from New Zealand's northernmost brigade have been honoured for a combined 50 years' service and 3330 emergency callouts.

Wally Colville and Bryce Blucher, of the Houhora Fire Brigade, were awarded 25-year medals in a function attended by close to 200 people at Houhora Big Game and Sports Fishing Club on Saturday night.

Their commitment to the brigade goes back even further than the awards suggest — in Colville's case, 32 years, and in Blucher's, 28 years.

READ MORE:
Fifty years for 'best brotherhood ever' at Houhora Volunteer Fire Force

Advertisement

Colville, a retired avocado grower, said camaraderie kept him coming back.

Past president of the United Fire Brigades Association Colin
Past president of the United Fire Brigades Association Colin "Toss" Kitchen awards a 25-year medal to Houhora firefighter Wally Colville. Photo / Peter de Graaf

''Plus there is a need. You feel like you're doing something for the community,'' he said.

Of the 1490 callouts he had attended, the one that stuck most in his memory was about 20 years ago when an arsonist lit 20 fires in one day in Aupōuri Forest.

The brigade was frantic that day but, fortunately, there was little wind so the fires didn't spread.

His biggest disappointments were the times the volunteers were unable to save people's homes because of the distance they had to travel in a patch which stretched all the way to Cape Reinga.

Over the years, callouts had increased in number and changed in nature. These days, fires were outnumbered by car crashes and medical emergencies.

Colville "absolutely" encouraged others to join up.

''It's all about teamwork and trusting each other, and the satisfaction when you stop a small fire becoming a big fire. That's always good.''

Advertisement

Bryce ''Singe'' Blucher — whose nickname comes from an incident involving a gas barbecue which cost him his eyebrows — has been to 1840 callouts.

Colin
Colin "Toss" Kitchen, past president of the United Fire Brigades Association, awards a 25-year medal to Houhora firefighter Bryce "Singe" Blucher. Photo / Peter de Graaf

He works four days a week at The Warehouse in Kaitaia. In his remaining time he spends at least one day a week cleaning the fire trucks and the fire station.

''It's about community and brotherhood, that's why I do it. It's like family, we all help each other out. When we go to call, or when you have problems, we all stick up for each other.''

Blucher said his most satisfying callout was helping to save a fellow volunteer's wife when her car was hit by a tourist who came around a corner on wrong side of the road. The worst included the death of a 12-year-old girl as she was crossing State Highway 1 north of Pukenui just a few weeks ago.

Houhora deputy chief Kelly Ruddell (right) awards Guy
Houhora deputy chief Kelly Ruddell (right) awards Guy "Ringer" Herring with life membership of the Houhora Fire Brigade. Herring's wife, Karen, is on the left. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Houhora's fire chief Warren Bunn couldn't take part for family reasons so one of his deputies, Kelly Ruddell, took his place for the formalities.

The medals were presented by former Kaitaia fire chief Colin "Toss" Kitchen, who paid tribute to the firefighters' families and the sacrifices they had also been called on to make.

Kitchen said the volunteers had supported and saved ''countless numbers'' of people, and their role was even more challenging in a small place like Houhora where they often knew the people affected by accidents or medical emergencies.

Fire and Emergency NZ principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said Houhora was ''an exceptional brigade''.

''They are led well, they always turn out. This community is lucky to have them.''

Other awards on the night included a 43-year bar for Guy Herring and life memberships for Herring and Blucher. Colville was already a life member.

Houhora firefighters, from left, Norm Wagener, Phillip Nattrass and Robert Nattrass are awarded their 50-year certificates by Far North Mayor John Carter. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Houhora firefighters, from left, Norm Wagener, Phillip Nattrass and Robert Nattrass are awarded their 50-year certificates by Far North Mayor John Carter. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Veteran firefighters Norm Wagener and Phillip and Robert Nattrass were awarded 50-year medals in July but received their certificates on Saturday night from Far North Mayor John Carter.

The MC was Houhora real estate director Sean Stratton.

Full honours list

UFBA honours

Geoffrey Marchant, 5-year medal; Greg Leyland 7-year bar; Peter Mould 11-year bar; Warren Bunn 13-year bar; Ray Mullaney 15-year bar; Guy Herring 43-year bar.

Local awards
Guy Herring, attendance; Greg Leyland, fishing; Lloyd Mathews, fireman of the year.

Life membership
Guy Herring, Bryce Blucher.

25-year medals
Wally Colville, Bryce Blucher.