Firefighting is family affair

PETRA FINER- SOUTH TARANAKI STAR
Last updated 10:36 08/11/2012
Eltham Fire
PETRA FINER
from left: David Waite, Lloyd Gernhoefer, Max Mackay, Kevin Barry and Ken Mackay have put a combined 150 years of volunteering and pride into the Eltham Fire Station. Combined with member Norman Commerer, who passed away in June, they have completed 200 years of service.

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With six Eltham volunteer firefighters sharing a collective 200 years experience, there's no doubt the area is in safe hands.

Max Mackay receives his 50 years' service medal this weekend as friends Lloyd Gernhoefer, Kevin Barry, Dave Waite and his son Ken Mackay will stand tall beside him.

The four men received their 25 year honours recently.

They will leave empty a space for Norman Commerer, a colleague and comrade who died in June, in his 51st year of active voluntary service to the Eltham Fire Brigade and it's community.

For a small town brigade that formed 110 years ago, having volunteers give so much of their lives is a credit to the team.

Mr Mackay encouraged his son Ken to join when he was 18 years-old.

"I was following in the footsteps (of my father)," he said.

"I was working for him at the time so every time the siren went, I had to follow."

Two other members of the brigade were also employed by the older Mr Mackay at the time, so if the siren went, work shut down.

His story is typical of many of the men. Mr Mackay, senior, was approached after a rugby injury stalled his on-field career. "They wanted another guy for their waterway hose-laying competition team," he said.

Giving time to volunteer doesn't look much like it did. Once they travelled to call-outs in an open-topped V8, but even the trucks are more streamlined now.

"Everything has changed, the uniform, the training, the equipment, the methods we use and communication."

Mr Waite agrees, he has seen a change in the core of function of the fire service.

"It used to be all fires, but now it's anything but," he said.

Mr Gernhoefer's father called him into duty; he was deputy chief fire officer at the time. He's followed in his father's footsteps and is currently filling that role.

He competed with the successful hose-laying team, which won several regional and North Island tournaments, for six years.

For Kevin Barry, the pull to serve wasn't the competition team. "I've always liked the big red trucks," he jokes.

Mr Commerer was the Chief Fire Officer at the helm of the Eltham Fire Brigade for over 30 years. Like the other five men celebrating this Saturday, his contribution will never be forgotten.

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