The Lake Okareka community rejoiced as its long-awaited volunteer fire station was officially opened today.
The old facility was little more than a garage but a $2,250,629 upgrade has seen it transformed into a fit-for-purpose building which is expected to double as a hub for the tight-knit Lake Okareka community.
Lake Okareka Rural Fire Force chief fire officer Phil Muldoon said the upgrade had been a long time coming and the whole crew was excited to have a new home.
"This is brilliant and we're absolutely humbled to have a building of this magnitude, compared to what we had for about 37 years," he said.
"Before there was no toilet, no running water, we had to pull the trucks out of the shed to give us room to get changed.
"This is built for purpose and suits the community's needs. It can be used by other community groups as well."
When it comes to fires and other emergencies, response time is key and Muldoon said the new facility meant the brigade could ensure it made every second count.
"It's built to the latest building standards. Response time is very important and being able to get out the door straight away is just imperative."
Fire and Emergency NZ (Fenz) chairman Paul Swain said he was "thrilled" to be able to attend the opening.
"This brigade is really critical for this community and for so long it operated out of a bit of a run down shed," he said.
"What we're working really hard on is to make sure across the country, particularly in these areas, there are the facilities there for our people to serve the community.
"This is a great step forward because one of the thing Government wants us to do is close the gap between the urban area and the rural area. This is a really good example of us doing that very deliberately."
Swain said while Fenz largely funded the upgrade, there were other contributors as well.
"The Rotorua Energy Trust put about $250,000 into it and the local brigade contributed about $45,000, which they fundraised so we could extend the footprint and make it more of a community hub.
"That's the concept for Fenz. It's not just the fire service coming out and delivering services but a fire and emergency organisation that works with the community - working together and developing resilience.
"It's got training facilities, meeting facilities, it's all part of the concept and this is a really good touch stone for where we are heading. Of course it's not just fires now, we help with medical emergencies, motor vehicle accidents and a lot of community education work."
Minister of Internal Affairs Jan Tinetti was also at the opening and said the new station was "hugely exciting".
"It's just wonderful to see such an importance being place don the rural service and how important that is to Rotorua and the surrounds here. I'm really excited to see this come to fruition for this community.
"I think it actually lifts the status of the brigade but also the ability to put top of the line services into this rural area means they can have the stronger response times, they can have a better volunteer contingent eventually.
"It just really emphasises how crucial this service is."