Marking 52 years of firefighting

16:00, Mar 26 2014
Paul Lyall
FIT FOR SERVICE: At 69, Wellington Fire Service veteran Paul Lyall is still fighting fires alongside much younger colleagues.

Fifty-two years in the New Zealand Fire Service hasn't slowed Paul Lyall down one bit.

The Levin man, 69, still does regular 14-hour night shifts along with the rest of the Wellington Fire Service crew, despite knowing some of them as babies.

"It's just a comradeship thing, working with a good bunch of chaps. They're all younger fellas, of course," he says.

"I keep myself fit. The job demands it, so you don't fall by the wayside."

The senior station officer was awarded a double gold star for his length of service at a ceremony in Paraparaumu on March 1. Each star marks 25 years, and he is the 117th person in Fire Service history to clock up a half-century.

"It's a good achievement. Being able to help people who can't help themselves, that's the big thing. It's rewarding."

A teenaged Lyall followed his brother into volunteering for Paraparaumu Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1962, a decade after the station was established. He kept volunteering there for 30 years, even after becoming a full-time firefighter in Wellington.

Equipment was rudimentary – Paraparaumu station's only fire engine was an ex-army vehicle that couldn't carry its own water supply.

"As a kid I used to help push it down the road," Lyall recalls.

The work was different too – in the 1960s firefighters did not attend car crashes, medical emergencies or weather events.

In 1965 he joined Wellington Central Fire Station, and moved into the single men's quarters there. When he married in 1969 he moved to Kilbirnie and then Miramar stations, before setting up home in Paraparaumu in the early 1970s.

Some of his colleagues grew up around those stations, Lyall's colleagues, although none of his own children have followed him into the service.

His mother worried about him fighting fires, "like all mothers do", and despite vigorous safety protocols, Lyall has had heart-stopping experiences, he says.

"There were moments when I wondered what the hell I was doing there. It's the kind of job where if you're too complacent, it can bite you on the bum."

Jobs "burned on the memory" over five decades include multi-storey fires in central Wellington, a train derailment in Paraparaumu and fatal car crashes – "the sort of thing I don't wish anybody to go through, but it's part of the job".

The variety keeps it interesting, he says. "Every day's different. You could be sitting in the mess room with a cup of tea, next minute you're in the middle of a crisis, trying to save your bacon."


Paul Lyall's top tips for fire safety

Do not leave frying pans unattended. "Keep looking while you're cooking."

Install smoke alarms in your home.

Create a household fire escape plan, so everybody knows what to do if a fire breaks out, such as which doors to close, and where to assemble.

Do not go back into a burning building you have escaped, no matter what. "Leave it to the Fire Service to deal with it." People often try to rescue pets, but most animals find an exit by themselves.


The Dominion Post