Eventful firefighting career to be honoured

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 11:00 19/07/2014

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From sleeping through the fire siren to leading a team of firefighters, there's little Ashhurst chief fire officer Neil Alexander hasn't done in his career.

Alexander will receive his 25-year service star at a ceremony in Ashhurst tonight.

A partner at Coachwork Central in Palmerston North, Alexander is possibly the only chief fire officer in the country who could not only operate a fire engine, but build one as well.

The star represents a firefighting career served exclusively at the Ashhurst Volunteer Fire Station, where he has risen from rookie to the man in charge.

Alexander, 56, joined the fire brigade in 1989 when he moved to Ashhurst and discovered his neighbour, a member of the brigade at the time, was friends with his brother, a firefighter in Auckland.

The neighbour encouraged Alexander to attend.

Through what Alexander describes as a combination of ambition and attrition, he has worked his way to the top, a position he's held since 2008.

He remembers his first callout vividly. He never heard the siren go off, and didn't made it to the fire.

Instead, a slumbering Alexander was briefly roused by a commotion before going back to sleep. That sound was his new comrades fighting a house fire in his street.

Callouts that have stuck in his mind are the big ones, like the 2004 floods, which involved huge organisation and kept the brigade flat-tack for days.

The Ashhurst Station has become a Civil Defence emergency management centre under his command. One of the things he's most proud of is training firefighters.

Having travelled throughout the central North Island, and even down as far as the top of the South, it was the enthusiasm and "seeing the penny drop" in trainee firefighters that he really enjoyed.

But, after spending almost half his life making sure the car was parked pointing outwards for a swift exit and his gear ready to be put on, he's preparing to hand over charge of the station within the next few years.

A new property, a hot-rod hobby and a new office in Auckland for his coachbuilding business all need attention.

He won't go unless he's leaving the place in good hands, but he's got some good officers coming up behind him, he said.

"If they're not good enough, I won't go."

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- Manawatu Standard

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