OPINION: Firefighters are reliably to be found around the top of the Readers Digest annual poll to find most trusted professions in New Zealand and it's hard to argue with that.
Especially from the perspective of journalists. Pipped as we are for 42nd spot by airport baggage handlers, we find ourselves looking way up the list, our faces pinched with envy, to find fire crews sitting at No 2 behind paramedics.
Invercargill residents undoubtedly share the nationwide climate of approval for the work done by our firefighters. This weekend, as they gather to celebrate 150 years' service to Invercargill, we should remind ourselves why.
It hardly out of inert sentimentality.
It is as true today as it has been at any time throughout those 15 decades that our firefighters, time and again, come up with the goods.
They have saved uncountable lives and immeasurable loss of property.
And, for all their training and skills, the fact remains that they hazard their own hides to do it.
Our calls on their services extend past smoke and flames to road crashes, chemical scares, entrapments and a host of other occasions where things have somehow gone wrong for us.
Even to the extent of Thomas McCambridge who in 1959 climbed down a Queens Park well to rescue three council workers, and wound up dead alongside them.
There have been times when we have called, urgently, for firefighters help not in isolated instances but on huge scale, as in civil defence emergencies like the 1984 floods when, during the course of just 12 days, they toiled to a state of exhaustion answering 693 calls - usually about six months' worth.
The constancy of the service given to Invercargill has not come without change, be it the welcome aspects such as a heightened involvement in community education and fire prevention work, or the less embraceable trends such as a much greater degree of regulation governing their own job requirements.
The spinal practicality of the job remains as important as ever, but the rules for getting it done are now mightily more complex.
Invercargill's private houses and public buildings are of varying age and quality, as could be said for most places, but none of us should be pleased about how many of our own are in problematic condition.
For their part there is only so much our firefighters can do to protect us from ourselves if we choose to be disrespectful of risk.
When the brigade celebrated its centenary the then minister of internal affairs, Sir Leon Gutz wrote: "Despite differences between past and present conditions, the fire brigades of today and yesterday have had a common asset - the quality of the men who serve in them".
Fifty years later we can update the reference to include women, but otherwise his assessment still stands.
And thank goodness for that.
But even as we celebrate the occasion, the rest of us need to remember that gratitude for the work of our firefighters is no replacement for our own need to take personal and collective responsibilities to minimise the number of times we must cry out to them for help.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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