by Chris Tobin
Firefighting has come a long way since the days Duncan Lyall rushed off to fires with a helmet on his head and an axe on his belt as his only personal equipment.
That was how it was when he joined the Waimate Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1968.
Since then equipment has become considerably more sophisticated with the introduction of breathing equipment and special uniforms.
Mr Lyall, Waimate’s chief fire officer, has recently received an award – as the citation presented to him from Paul Swain, Fire and Emergency NZ’s board chairman states – in “recognition of extraordinary contribution for over 50 years of loyal service as a firefighter”.
Comradeship and service to the community have been motivating factors for Mr Lyall over the years.
“I like the comradeship and helping people and it’s all about teamwork – it’s not about individuals.
Members of the Waimate Volunteer Fire Brigade held an honours night on Saturday.
Awards were presented by United Fire Brigades Association (UFBA) board member Darryl Sayer and other presentations were made by Canterbury Provincial Fire Brigades Association (CPFBA) vice-president Kath Love, Fire & Emergency NZ area manager Steven Greenyer & region 4 manager Paul Henderson.
Chief fire officer Duncan Lyall received his 50-year gold star, and operational support Stewart Rogers and senior firefighter Andrew McKenzie received their 25-year gold stars.
Other recipients were: 3-year certificate, Scott Buckingham; 5-year medal, Tom Peters; 2-year silver bar, Findley Keen (9 years), Dan Mitchell (9 years), SO Steve Pali (11 years), OS Megan Holland (11 years), Jordan Buckingham (11 years), SO David Shea (11 years), Brad Keen (13 years), Tony Smith (17 years), Ryan Manson (19 years), Graeme Hamilton (21 years), Mark Joyce (21 years), Andrew Bray (23 years), Nathan Fletcher (23 years); 2-year gold bar, Andrew White (27 years), Malcolm McLennan (27 years), Andrew Emerson (29 years), SSO John McConnell (37 years), Vince Thompson (37 years), Eddy O’Malley (45 years), CFO Duncan Lyall (49 years), DCFO Roger Bell (49 years).
“The community here has been very supportive and so have employers.”
Interest in being a volunteer firefighter began as a young boy in Scouts and he joined up in Waimate with a group of others of similar age, some of them apprentices like him.
Working first as a joiner with Debonaire Furniture in Waimate, he then spent 20 years at the Pareora freezing works before returning to Debonaire for another 10-year stint.
He said there had been many characters in the Waimate brigade, including Stan Drake, Noel Nicholas, Maurie Hamilton and his father-in-law, Phil O’Malley.
“They were all good, hard-working people.”
Early on, the brigade used to attend a lot of stubble fires and there has always been a large number of car crashes.
“We had a bad time two years ago when we went to 17 deaths.
“We cover from the Waitaki to St Andrews for our rescue work backing up St John ambulance, so we have purple calls for things like people having heart attacks.”
To cope with this difficult work, fire crews were always debriefed and assistance was made available from the fire service.
“People come down and talk to us. Timaru look after us well and you can always ring at any time. It’s all confidential.
“Some things affect you more than others. Car crashes are hard if you know someone.”
The biggest fire he had attended was the Debonaire factory blaze in Gorge Rd in 1997, when he was factory manager.
“There was an explosion in the paint booth.
“It was a beautiful rimu building and went up like a rocket – it burnt to the ground.”
Appliances from Waimate, Glenavy, St Andrews and Timaru attended the fire.
One traumatic experience was the fire at the Everest Restaurant, formerly the Savoy Tearooms, in 2015, when three family members died.
Despite the stresses and demands of the work, the Waimate brigade had never struggled to get volunteers, Mr Lyall said.
Waimate has 26 volunteers at present, two of them women.
“We’re a really family-orientated team – we look after the wives and the kids.
“We have never had a problem recruiting and we never advertise.”
He said volunteers usually gave eight hours of their time a week for training and other work, which did not include time spent going to fight fires or time spend at accidents they attended.
Present members of the brigade had notched up 600 hours’ service.
Mr Lyall isn’t planning to give up any time soon.
“I’ll stick with it. When I can’t ride on the truck, I’ll give up.”
Besides Mr Lyall’s 50-year award, Waimate brigade members Andrew McKenzie and Stuart Rogers also received 25-year awards while other members received five-year certificates or two-year bars.