Age range in firefighters 'beneficial'

BLANTON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 25/06/2014
Firefighters
CHARLOTTE CURD/ Fairfax NZ
AGE NO BARRIER: Neville Christiansen, 55, left, is one of the older firefighters at the New Plymouth station while Mitch Tamati, 41, one of the youngest.

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Grey-haired firefighters are nothing to worry about, Taranaki area commander Pat Fitzell says.

Yesterday it was revealed the average age of paid firefighters in New Zealand was 46 and one in 20 was older than 65.

Fitzell said the statistic was accurate for the region's paid staff, but it was not a problem. "We are all young, we're all under 70," he joked. Fitzell said of the 37 paid staff in the region there was a range in age from 29 to 64 and the mixture was beneficial. "It's good to have that balance of experience and the younger ones.

"There are four operational watches and we look at the profile and make sure there is a balance in age, experience and qualifications. We do that every time there is staff movement."

Fitzell, who started as a volunteer firefighter at 14, said there were a lot of older staff because of increased recruitment in the 1970s.

He said 80 per cent of firefighters were volunteers and there were schemes in place to ensure the younger ones moved into senior roles. The fire service was a career job and people who joined often stayed until they retired, Fitzell, 62, said.

"I got into it because my dad was a firefighter. But basically I've done this all my life."

Fitzell said the fire service was a big family with many following in the footsteps of family members.

Mitch Tamati, who at 41 is the second youngest attached to the New Plymouth station, said he had dabbled in building and joinery, before becoming a firefighter 10 years ago.

"My father was a firefighter for 32 years so I knew everyone here. They were like family so it wasn't a big change."

At 55, Neville Christiansen is one of those pushing the average age up, but he has also been a firefighter for 30 years.

Unlike most, it was not a family connection that inspired Christiansen, rather friends.

"I had a couple of mates who were firefighters and they said I should have a go." Christiansen said he joined the fire service because he couldn't see himself being a mechanic all his life.

"You always get to see the good side of people. We turn up in the worst circumstances, but people are always happy to see us," he said. "It's good being the good guy, we don't get any blame."

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