Veteran firefighter thanks his family

STALWART: Invercargill volunteer firefighter Neville Checketts celebrates 50 years on the job.
STALWART: Invercargill volunteer firefighter Neville Checketts celebrates 50 years on the job.

The helmet of Invercargill volunteer firefighter Neville Checketts melted to his head in his first major blaze, but it didn't deter him from fighting fires for another half a century.

Mr Checketts celebrated 50 years on the job when awarded a Double Gold Star at a ceremony on Saturday night.

His first major fire was at W H Boyes in Tay St, Mr Checketts said.

"The W H Boyes fire stands out because I almost had my helmet permanently stuck to my head," he recalled.

"There was a request from the chief for the crew to wear their helmets because of falling debris. The uniform back then consisted of a black raincoat, armband, gumboots and soft cap, with ex-army tin hats painted white used as helmets. When I came out and tried to remove my helmet, it would not come off because the heat had melted the headband and it was stuck to my hair."

The veteran firefighter - who also fought the Norwich Union building blaze in 1978 that was so hot it was melting the glass - said he still had as much enthusiasm for the job today as he did when he chased his older brother to Southland fires as a boy.

He said he knew he would follow in the footsteps of his brother, Mervyn, when he found himself pursuing the Volunteer Fire Police Unit member to a fire on a bicycle.

Remaining on the job for 50 years would not have been possible without the support of his wife, Valda, and three boys who had to put up with a lot during that time.

"My sons had to make arrangements for the fire brigade, phone calls in the middle of the night, no toys in the hallway to trip up a rushing fireman, short phone calls to girlfriends in case someone needed to get hold of me, no cars parked in the driveway and the constant crackle of a fire radio in the kitchen and bedroom."

Mr Checketts said it was the thrill and adrenaline that came with responding to fires and emergencies that still drove him after more than half a century.

"It is also quite good being useful to the community," he said.

During his years of service, Mr Checketts had also made plenty of great mates, adding that while equipment and technology had changed over the decades, the core duties of a firefighter had not.

During his time with the Invercargill Fire Brigade, Mr Checketts had served in several senior roles, saying he would retire when he lost the desire to get out of bed on a wet and cold night and go to a fire.

The dedicated volunteer has also received the City of Invercargill Civic Honours Award.

In 2005 he received the Queen's Service Medal for service to the community.

The Southland Times