Mike "Ringo" Harwood has worked 50 years in the busiest fire station in the country, battling more than 1000 fires and hauling equipment up and down countless high-rises.
Seventy-two this month, he retains the fitness that made him Mr November in the 1991 firefighters charity calendar, and he cuts off a retirement question before it's finished.
"Nup, I've never thought about it. It will come down to when I know that I can't do the job. I've seen some people struggling, and I've thought, 'Jeez, if I ever get like that I'm out of here'.
"You can start standing back and get somebody else to roll up the hose, or go up the ladder. But if that's my job, I want to do that and if I can't do that, I'll be gone."
Josh Nicholls, also a firefighter at Auckland City station, said Harwood reaching half a century of service is more remarkable for doing it in the most demanding station.
"He can still foot it with everyone," says Nicholls, the second generation to have worked with Harwood, after his father's own service.
"It gives the guys a good reality check, when you are jumping on the side of the truck and you're having an off day and then you have a look beside you - a guy is 50 years senior to some of these guys and he is still going."
A ceremony to award Harwood a rare and prestigious Double Gold Star for 50 years' service was postponed after the latest outbreak plunged Auckland back into level 3.
The pandemic brought other disruption - on HR's orders he wasn't allowed to work with his beloved Blue Watch crew during the first lockdown because of his age.
That didn't go down well, to say the least, and after some forthright feedback the top brass - whom Harwood once knew as fresh-faced rookies - agreed he could work if he got a fitness certificate.
He handed it over to three area commanders, with a parting shot.
"I said, 'How was it for the past eight months you have been sending me down on a fire engine to Covid hotels?' They went, 'Oh, that's a good point there Ringo'. I said 'Yeah, it's called common sense'. I walked out and left them stewing about that."
Harwood was born in Christchurch and eventually attended Avondale College after his parents bought a dairy on Richmond Rd.
School was "to eat my lunch and play rugby", and after leaving soon before his 15th birthday he worked as a truck driver's assistant, until his father told him he'd be applying to the fire service, and then the army the following week.
Another order - "get your bloody haircut" - was ignored, and a shaggy-haired, nervous 17-year-old turned up at the Art Deco facade of the Auckland Central Fire, facing Pitt St and just down the hill from Karangahape Rd, and was told to wait in the mess area.
"I'm standing here pouring my tea out, and a lot of guys in those days were ex-merchant marine guys, hard boys. And one of the older boys said, 'What part of the band do you play in mate?' I sort of turned around, in awe, and said, 'Oh, I like the drums'.
"And one of the other boys said, 'So you think you're f***ing Ringo are you?' And it stuck. There are guys in the job around the country who wouldn't know me as Mike Harwood."
Nearby Ponsonby and Grey Lynn were working-class in those days, and Harwood cut his teeth on three or four house fires a week, with flames often leaping among cheek-by-jowl kauri buildings "that burn like oil wax", and sometimes with somebody pleading, "my kids are inside".
"Some of those things stick in your mind," he says of the times when they arrived too late. "But that's part and parcel - you win some, you lose some, and that's our job."
Breathing sets weren't normally used in those days and water access could be difficult. There were a few close calls - hardwon experience that Harwood says builds into a kind of sixth sense for danger.
He's passed on what he can to thousands of recruits, after becoming involved in training programmes that have taken him around the country.
In 2003 he signed on to Urban Search and Rescue (Usar), helping after disasters including mudslides and the 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
Then came February 22, 2011.
Harwood's team dug through four floors of the collapsed floors of the PGC Building, seeking the weakening voices of those trapped below.
"Because the building had pancaked and was on a bit of an angle, we couldn't come in from underneath, because it was going to come down again, so we came in from the top.
"We were going past fatalities. People who were trapped. You put that in the back of your head."
They'd swap out every 20 minutes if possible, and were harnessed, but as they got deeper escape was impossible when aftershocks rolled through.
Spurring them on were the calls from those trapped.
"That kept you going, because there'd be a big aftershock, and you'd think, 'Oh God', and me and a couple of boys went, 'What are we doing in here?' Because it could have collapsed again.
"We had training scenarios and that sort of stuff. But on that one, we were thrown in the deep end."
The methodical rescue work contrasted with firefighting, where speed is needed to stop flames from spreading.
"With firefighting, we get there, we're on the hustle, we've got to hit it hard - I call it a bit of hardening up, a bit of mongrel, controlled aggression. When you get with Usar, it can take an hour just to get through a little section of stuff. It's that different sort of mindset."
They rescued two people who had been trapped for about 20 hours. A team from New South Wales were taking over when a nearby Australian reporter and camera operator heard a faint voice in the rubble.
Ann Bodkin, who was rescued by the NSW crew, had called through the night, but wasn't heard amid the noise of equipment and generators.
"We would shut down now and again and listen because we were talking to other [trapped] people, but nobody heard her."
Harwood's team recorded where they'd seen bodies and later returned with a demolition crew to recover them.
"Where we thought there were two people were actually five," he remembers.
He flew home on a Friday, and on Sunday was boarding a plane to Japan, to help after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which claimed more than 15,500 lives.
Each day they'd travel from their inland base to fishing villages, some about the size of Ōrewa. They did secondary searches, scouring the devastation after a first sweep by rescuers. At night it was minus 18C and snowing.
"We would go down to the basements, go through the crushed cars . . . they had nowhere to go, it was flat for 10km. Those poor buggers. [After Christchurch and then Japan] you start to think to yourself, what's happened with the world?"
One morning Harwood went alone to search a treeline on a hill near a school. Clothes, bedding and debris hung from the branches, and what looked at first glance like a naked doll.
"It was this little girl, about 8. She was dead, she'd been up there four or five days."
When he landed back in Auckland, one of his two daughters picked him up from the airport and when his wife, Glenda, was at the supermarket, he started mowing the lawns, before the mower ran out of petrol. He felt annoyance, then caught himself.
"I thought to myself, 'Back to reality, eh' - you are worrying about the lawns and being out of gas, and here's all this devastation that you've seen and been in. Life goes on, doesn't it."
He had a mandatory check-up with "the shrink", but takes an old-school attitude to not dwelling on what he's witnessed, although he's aware that doesn't work for everyone.
The mental health support offered to fire fighters by HR isn't the only change. In the past five years the number of medical jobs fire crews get called to as first responders has surged, which Harwood puts down to underfunding of the St John ambulance service (the Government funds only about 70 per cent of its bills).
Purple-event callouts (immediate threat to life) are particularly high in South Auckland, he says, meaning some recruits go to three of four deaths before their first fire.
"We had one of the ambo guys come across [from their base over the road] and say, 'Oh since you guys have been doing all these purple call-outs it's so great, the percentage of people being saved has gone up'.
"I went, so before that you were losing people? 'Oh, I didn't say that'. Yes you did, you just told me that. And they were. And to me, that's wrong - that should be government-funded. Or put an ambulance in every fire station, like they do in the [United] States."
Things aren't perfect in the fire service, either. Pinned to a corkboard in the station's mess is a Weekend Herald article titled, "Firefighters had to use street as toilet, buy food", that reported on a union survey that found teams battling the four-day SkyCity convention centre fire worked to exhaustion and reported significant staffing, resourcing and appliance issues.
Another framed photo shows officers marching down Queen St to protest against government plans in the 1990s to reduce their numbers and alter working conditions, a long-running dispute not resolved until 2001.
"They were the bad times," Harwood says, looking at the picture. "They wanted to get rid of the union, and we came to work one morning and heard on the radio we'd all been fired."
Harwood has his own chair in the mess where he turned up as a 17-year-old and was nicknamed because of his hairstyle. An old boy now, he too struggles with aspects of the younger generation.
Station life used to be "a bit of a Coro Street", with kids around and the crew playing rugby together. That sense of family and camaraderie remains, but people are also more into individual pastimes, like fishing, windsurfing and skiing - or checking their phones.
"I'll come here in the morning for breakfast at changeover. Used to come here and you'd talk - 'What did you do on the weekend, oh I'd paint my house, or I got a new car', you know.
"I come in here now, 'Hey guys, what's happening?' 'What?' 'What's happening, what did you do at the weekend?' 'Oh nothing much," says Harwood, miming somebody returning to a hunch position over a mobile phone.
"You know, that's life though. Things change."
He feels for those coming through the service, who rely on overtime payments to meet Auckland-sized mortgages and the rising cost of living.
All the same, he can't think of a more rewarding career.
"I've never really woken up and gone, damn, I've got to work today. It's a great job, and a great bunch of guys to work with."