There were times when Sylvia Forester and her late husband were the only people who could respond to emergency calls in Waitotara. But it did not shake their sense of duty.

The Waitotara woman has been recognised with a Queen's Service Medal for services to the New Zealand Fire Service.

Mrs Forester and husband John ran the Waitotara Volunteer Fire Brigade for more than 25 years each. The brigade was also a first responder for the ambulance service in Patea, Waverley, Waitotara and the district from 1990 until 2012.

When she was first roped into the service by her husband to boost numbers, she was the just the second female in the brigade.


"He was the one that got me started and I was only supposed to be there a while but we couldn't get enough men to join up.

"I enjoyed it. My husband worked on the oil rig and he spent 50 per cent of his time away so I had to take over as deputy."

When John was away she would often step up to run the entire show, including all of the emergency medical calls for up to a month by herself. When he was there it was often just the two of them available.

"We got told off. But if there was a life to be saved we were not going to sit at the station because there was not enough people to go."

During the flooding of the Waitotara River in 2004, she was one of the first on the scene to assist with evacuating people and helping with the clean up of the village.

Following her husband's death in 2013, she continued to run the brigade despite low numbers until the New Zealand Fire Service decided to close the Waitotara Brigade last year.

Mrs Forester also serves on the local marae committee, as a marae representative on the local iwi board, and looks after community buildings.