Recognising our firefighters

Published on 27 May 2021

Ann Court (Deputy Mayor)

Several events this month have reminded me about a very important group in our community. We all rely on these brave women and men, even though we hope we never need to call them.

Many of you will have read about the fire that destroyed the 130-year-old Masonic Lodge in Kohukohu last month. The two-storey, Category 2 heritage-listed building was one of the oldest lodges in the country and a significant landmark in the town. It could have been worse. Two houses next door were seriously scorched but saved by volunteer firefighters. According to reports, firefighters Eva Walker and Lindsey Davidson fought the fire, assisted by residents doing what they could with garden hoses, until they were joined by their own crew and crews from Ōkaihau, Broadwood, Ahipara and Kaitāia. I’m full of admiration for all these first responders. Our mostly volunteer force does a fantastic job, juggling work and family commitments to keep others safe. We all rely on these volunteers, who not only fight fires, they attend road accidents, medical incidents, severe weather events and much more.

The Kohukohu fire came just days before International Firefighters’ Day on 4 May. This day of recognition was initiated after the tragic loss of five firefighters during a 1999 bushfire in Victoria, Australia. Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) marked the occasion this year by profiling firefighters from around the country. Go to the FENZ website and search for International Firefighters’ Day to read about them. These are people you know. They are your neighbours, work colleagues, friends, and whānau.

Of course, not all callouts end well. On the eve of International Firefighters’ Day, a house fire at Hihi in Doubtless Bay claimed a life. Despite the efforts of a brave neighbour, who managed to get the occupant out of the house, the person could not be saved. It was the third fatal house fire reported in the North Island that day – a stark reminder that we all need to focus on prevention. Installing and maintaining fire alarms and making sure our loved ones know what to do in an emergency is crucial.

Like all provincial areas, the Northland fire service is always looking for new recruits. And like elsewhere, we have at times faced the prospect that stations will not have enough volunteers to maintain a full roster. However, I was impressed by recent articles in this paper celebrating the dedication of our firefighters. Grant Baker from the Kaitāia brigade celebrated 25 years' service and was awarded a United Fire Brigades’ Association Gold Star this month. Just days later, the paper featured a new generation of volunteers. Dani Elliott has now been with the Kāitaia brigade for five years, and she was recently joined by 17-year-old Kaitāia College student, Jayden Boughey. I feel encouraged that our young people are putting their hands up to serve their communities. I am hugely grateful to them and to all our volunteers, who are literally there for us when our lives are on the line.