Photographic tribute to port brigade

LEADER: Senior firefighter and former Lyttelton brigade member Alastair Suren spearheaded the book project.
LEADER: Senior firefighter and former Lyttelton brigade member Alastair Suren spearheaded the book project.

A volunteer fire brigade that found itself at the epicentre of Christchurch's devastating February 2011 earthquake has captured its experiences in print.

The Brigade - A tribute to the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade features a collection of photos from the two weeks the brigade spent operational after the 6.3-magnitude quake hit, as well as interviews with the firefighters and their families.

The earthquake was the brigade's biggest operation since it was formed after the 1870 Lyttelton fire.

It fielded 580 calls in those first two weeks. It normally receives about 130 a year.

All proceeds from the self- produced book will go back to the brigade, whose station was demolished after it was extensively damaged in the June 2011 quake.

Former brigade member Alastair Suren, who spearheaded the project, started taking photos of the brigade the morning after the quake hit.

"I thought, this is too big an event not to record."

But it was not until a Lyttelton woman saw his photos and told him they had nearly driven her to tears that he decided to take the next step.

"I just wanted to tell the brigade's story," he said.

He interviewed brigade members and edited the transcripts of their stories. A Lyttelton graphic designer laid out the pages for free.

The result is a record of their experiences of the quake and the camaraderie, as well as the juggling of family and community commitments.

"When [the public] call 111, we turn up . . . because we want to turn up, but it comes as a big personal cost," Suren said.

"We've always been a pretty close-knit bunch of guys but I think this has brought them even closer together."

Suren has since left Christchurch and transferred to the Whakatane Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Lyttelton brigade chief fire officer Mark Buckley said he was "blown away" by the stories in the book. "A couple of times I had to put it down as it brought a tear to my eye," he said.

Buckley and Suren said the Fire Service would fund a new station, so any money raised would go to covering the book's publishing costs, as well as the brigade's other services to the community, such as upgrading its van, training, social facilities and re-framing photos that were damaged in the quakes. The brigade is currently operating in temporary facilities in the Lyttelton Port of Christchurch car park and hoped to have a new station within two years.

Buckley said about 600 copies of the original 3000 print run had sold so far. The Brigade sells for $40 at Portico, Coastal Living and Leslies Book Shop in Lyttelton, as well as Coopers and Co in The Colombo mall in Sydenham.

It can also be ordered online at

The Press