Fire chief moving on after an eventful era

BEN STRANG
Last updated 14:21 26/11/2012
Wayne Serjeant

Final days: Paraparaumu Volunteer Fire Brigade chief Wayne Sarjeant is handing over the reigns.

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Fire sirens, poles and on-the-job learning might have gone during Wayne Sarjeant's time in the fire service, but the fire trucks still pump water.

After 35 years with the Paraparaumu Volunteer Fire Brigade, the past 18 as chief, Mr Sarjeant retires on Saturday.

Mr Sarjeant said he decided the time was right to retire.

"In my opinion, I've done the best I can, and it's time to move on and tackle new challenges.

"There comes a time and place when I think it's important to step aside and let other people experience and put their mark on it."

When he started with the brigade in the late 1970s, new firefighters were trained on the job and were on the truck from day one.

He said things had changed significantly, with volunteers undertaking about eight months of training before a being allowed on board a fire truck.

There have been many other changes, too.

"Nowadays communication is much better. You notice you don't hear the siren much anymore. The only time you hear it is when we're testing it.

"Our pagers are pretty reliable these days. Electronics are much improved."

Even the traditional fireman's pole was out, he said.

"Well, I have to think that OSH would have heart failure.

"They are a very nice thing to have, but I'm afraid I'd have to go to a great deal of trouble explaining why we need this death-defying thing.

"The trucks, well they still pump water, nut now we have automatic transmissions, and they are a lot more modern."

Of the thousands of callouts Mr Sarjeant has attended, he vividly recalled the fire at Waikanae's Te Rama homestead in 1996.

"There was a homestead there that had been there a long, long time, and it was a disaster to see such a fine old building destroyed."

The Statue Bargain Barn fire was another memorable call-out. However, he said it was more devastating when families suffered from fires.

"Sometimes it's the little fires which are the hardest. It might only be a room, but it could completely devastate a family, and there were too many of those.

"It's strange saying these fires are memorable, because it comes at the misfortune of somebody."

Since a 24/7 crew of paid firefighters started working at the Paraparaumu station, Mr Sarjeant said the number of callouts had dropped.

Despite an initially strained relationship with the paid firefighters, he said the bond between them and the volunteers and was now strong and works well.

"With businesses less happy to have staff heading off 24/7 attending fires, and the economic climate, those paid staff really fill a gap where the volunteers were," he said.

Tim Morgan, Mr Sarjeant's deputy chief of about 10 years, will take over as the brigade's new chief.

The brigade's Christmas party on Saturday will double as a farewell do for Mr Sarjeant. Mayor Jenny Rowan and Otaki MP Nathan Guy are expected to attend.

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