Fire safety officer bowing out

When young barman Graeme Reid was offered two jobs on the same day - one as a fireman, the other as an airport baggage handler - he tossed a coin and never looked back.

The Canterbury fire safety officer is retiring after 37 years in the Fire Service, the last 30 spent as an investigator.

While he will miss the intrigue of rattling through charred remains looking for "secrets in the floor", there are two things he will not miss - the "stench" of fires and the sadness they leave behind.

Reid, 64, will never forget sitting on the porch of a Christchurch house ravaged by fire the night before, the body of the man killed still inside, while police were looking for his fiancee.

It had been the man's stag night and she had no idea about the fire.

"And then she walked up the drive," he said.

Another case that stood out was when two children aged 10 and 12 rescued four family members, including their comatose parents, from a house fire. The parents had returned from a night out drinking, sent the baby-sitter home and did not wake when the fire broke out.

Unattended cooking caused the most fire injuries and fatalities. After that, it was electrical malfunctions, he said. "A lot of the sad fires are based around drugs and alcohol. We tend to counsel each other in a pub over a beer."

Rangiora-based Reid is part of a team called to a fire scene when the crew that attended cannot determine the cause of the blaze. "When all is burnt and gone, it's a real mystery really. It's about digging to the bottom. And the bottom can be a long way down," Reid said.

More than a few things had changed since he started in 1975. Then, there were age and height restrictions, and "pretty much if you weren't a boy, you couldn't be here, either".

His first week on duty was the great Canterbury nor'west wind storm, where winds reached 172kmh at Christchurch Airport.

"I wondered why I had ever joined this organisation - most people were trying to find shelter and we were running around the city doing stuff," Reid said.

He will spend his retirement travelling, spending time with friends and volunteering at Ferrymead Heritage Park.

The Press