Duo celebrated for 80 years of service

DURABLE DUO: Derek Woodcock and Ron Heal have each served 40 years in the Motueka Volunteer Fire Brigade.
DURABLE DUO: Derek Woodcock and Ron Heal have each served 40 years in the Motueka Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Ron Heal used to follow the fire engine on his push-bike as a teenager. Derek Woodcock spent eight years waiting for a vacancy so he could join to battle the "orange stuff".

That was 40 years ago. Recently the pair were celebrated by their fellow officers for their exemplary service to the community.

Ron said the brigade was very family and community focussed when he first joined. "I did it for the community and my family supported me 110 per cent."

During the years the nature of the callouts has changed from kiln, chimney and general fires to attending everything from vehicle crashes to fallen trees. In the process volunteers have had to take on more training to become as skilled as paid firefighters and now rarely get a family weekend at home.

The thing which hadn't changed was the brigade's family feel, Ron said. "We all look after each other in the brigade."

Ron also spent five years as a volunteer for St John and was one of the founding members of MESSI, the now disbanded Motueka Emergency Services Society, which raised funds for emergency equipment including a new rescue vehicle for the brigade.

Ron said he and Derek joined a year apart. "We have always helped each other. We've both been drivers and pump operators for 40 years."

He said volunteers today had to be committed. But the payback was immeasurable. "The best part is helping people - and I've still got a few years to go."

Derek's wait to enter the brigade ended on November 11, 1971. He'd tried St John but decided he could handle serving in the brigade after watching the town's fire engines leave on callouts.

A tip from a family friend and a nod of approval from former brigade member Charlie Coppins saw the 20-something Derek get his foot in the station door and never look back.

Instead of hobbies Derek dedicated himself to volunteering for his community. Along with 40 years with the brigade he also spent 29 attending weekend sports for St John.

For him it was all about the satisfaction of helping the people of the region.

Changes over the years have seen the introduction of new machinery and aids - such as breathing apparatus. But fire is still fought with water.

"When I started we had single stage pumps, we moved to (higher pressure) two-stage pumps and now we are back to single stage again.

"At the end of the day we are still putting water on the orange stuff."

Like Ron, Derek said the brigade was still a family and had strong community support.

The brigade's chief fire officer Mike Riddell said both men were invaluable brigade members who had provided outstanding service to the community and proved their worth with their ability to "tap a few people" in the name of fundraising.