Loyalty runs deep in the Houhora Volunteer Fire Force.
That was very evident on Saturday night when the 50th anniversary of what was originally the Houhora Volunteer Fire Brigade was celebrated at Pukenui.
The brigade had seven life members, Chief Fire Officer Warren Bunn said, most of them still active. But the night belonged to three of the founding members, Norm Wagener and brothers Robert and Phillip Nattrass, who responded the first time the alarm sounded in 1969 and were still doing so half a century later.
Mr Wagener said he had been, and continued to be, part of the "best brotherhood ever".
He and the Nattrass brothers received double Gold Stars, for 50 years' service, presentation sets of Fire and Emergency New Zealand glasses, and high praise for their extraordinary service to their community.
Longevity of service is a feature of the brigade — Lloyd Matthews and Nigel Herring have 25-year Gold Stars, and two more have been earned but have yet to be presented — but it is unlikely that the founding members' records will be equalled. Between them the trio had amassed 5498 musters — Robert Nattrass 1691, Phillip Nattrass 1755 and Mr Wagener 2052.
That might not have sounded especially impressive by Kaitaia brigade standards, Mr Bunn said, but Kaitaia responded to more than 300 calls a year; Houhora averaged around 50.
Robert Nattrass had served as the CFO from 1980 to 1984, and had distinguished himself as a long-serving bar manager.
He had also been responsible for water deliveries for many years, making a significant financial contribution to the brigade in the process, and had been very generous with metal and mulch, albeit not very good at submitting an invoice.
Phillip Nattrass, aka Mr Reliable (or Mr Fix It), had contributed excellent local knowledge, which many times made accessing a relatively remote fire easier than it would otherwise have been, and was also lauded for his "legendary" cooking skills.
Mr Wagener had served as CFO from 1984 to 2009, Mr Bunn doubting that any other brigade in the country could produce a record to equal that.
He had created a relaxed team with a great culture, that always got the job done when the need arose, he added.
Mr Bunn thanked the Wagener and Nattrass families for "letting us have these three guys", adding that there were no plans to give them back any time soon.
Principal Rural Fire Officer Myles Taylor and his predecessor, Lance Johnston, presented the 50-year medals, Mr Taylor saying they were going to three men who had served their community tirelessly.
"We are immensely grateful for the work you have done," he said.
"You are the type of people we want and need in communities, and we are extremely lucky to have you."
Few brigades, he added, had three 50-year veterans, and to have two in one family was amazing.
Former Fire and Emergency NZ regional manager Bryan Cartelle put it into further perspective.
About 8 per cent of firefighters served 25 years, and received a Gold Star, he said, while 1.8 per cent received a second for 50 years. Two double Gold Stars in one family had never been recorded before.
Mr Bunn, meanwhile, assured the gathering that the brigade did have some members under the age of 60, while BJ Stratton presented a short history of the brigade, which began with a trailer pump and hoses, later taking delivery of a Fargo appliance that had previously served as a World War II ambulance in France.
Much had changed since 1969, but not everything. The brigade had benefited, and continued to benefit, from some very dedicated men and women.
"Wives were very involved in the old days, and they still are," he said.
"Never forget to thank the women in your (voluntary) organisations."