A Pāpāmoa man has joined an exclusive group of volunteer firefighters who have served for over 50 years.
John Begg, a retired trucking business owner, was presented with his double gold star medal on July 23.
He sat down with the Bay of Plenty Times to discuss his time with the fire service.
Begg first became a volunteer firefighter in 1966 in the milling town of Ōwhango, a small town around 20 kilometres south of Taumaranui on State Highway 4.
The small town didn't have a fire service until the community had enough of mill fires.
"We decided that we'd better do something about it", Begg said.
So, as he would continue to do for more than half a century, Begg stepped up to help.
Their "fire hose" was a portable water pump, their uniforms were hand-me-downs from other brigades, and they had to fundraise to buy helmets. Their "alarm" was an air raid siren left over from World War II that had to be hand-cranked.
"We sort of got our own act together in those early days," Begg said.
The most memorable part of his time in Ōwhango wasn't a fire but a theft.
In 1973 a group of young men from Auckland broke into their fire station and drove off in the firetruck. They managed to tear the door off the station as they exited and dragged it behind them "a considerable way".
They were caught by a roadblock at the Waikune Prison, but the brigade was never compensated for the damage.
But not all of Begg's stories are so light-hearted.
He said the most difficult part of the job has been the "deaths of young ones".
"They do knock you around - even now, you flashback.
"You've gotta learn to leave it, shut it off, leave it at the station ... we've gotta come back and talk about."
In his role as a training officer, he helps his fellow firefighters to talk about their experiences and helps them deal with the emotions behind them.
"You don't take it home - you've gotta talk about it."
Begg moved from Ōwhango to the Taumarunui Brigade in 1982, and to Clarkes Beach in 2005 where he joined the Waiau Pa rural brigade. He said both of these brigades had "amazing" crew members.
These days, callouts are more often medical than fires.
"Fires are pretty rare ... way down the list now. The only thing around here that sort of catches fire is the sand dunes.
"But medicals are way up. Medicals and motor vehicle accidents."
When he and his wife, Helen, decided to retire from their work and move to Pāpāmoa in 2014, Begg asked his real estate agent for a place close to the station.
He considers firefighters around the country his family: "You could always relate to one another."
After all these years, he said the main lesson he's learned is "just taking responsibility".
"You've gotta learn to cope with a situation very, very quickly and make decisions - making quick decisions and making sure they're right."
He said receiving his medal had been very enjoyable.
"[I] just sort of flashed back over the years - yeah, been there, done that - gee whiz, I've got there!"
He and Helen have been married for 55 years, and have had two children and three grandchildren.
Helen's support has been crucial for Begg's work, he said.
He would be out on a job at two or three o'clock in the morning, and Helen would "turn up with our morning tea".
Helen said she's seen Begg develop a "quiet confidence" over the years of his service.
"He's grown into the role really well - he's done several good things quietly, and just taken a back seat and let other people take the kudos."
She felt "exceedingly proud" to see him get the medal, after many years of being "extremely worried" about him on callouts.
"In the early days, the siren would go up, and they would go to an incident, but we didn't know what it was. They just disappeared into oblivion.
"You waited for hours and hours to find out what it was."
She said support and equipment for firefighters improved a lot since Begg started.
"They were working from the start with very little decent equipment ... they would come home absolutely frozen solid.
"This is why these old fellas stick together, because they have seen from grassroots through to now, and it is a family."