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Long service … Bruce Abernethy served the Cheviot Volunteer Fire Brigade for 57 years. PHOTO: ROBYN BRISTOW

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Bruce Abernethy proudly donned his Cheviot Volunteer Fire Brigade dress uniform one last time on Saturday night.

The humble 83-year-old, who served the brigade and the district for 57 years, wore it to his farewell.

His service, along with that of Jim Forbes, who has served 25 years with the brigade, was celebrated at a special function.

Bruce, whose attendance record is in the high 90 percent, is one of an elite group in New Zealand who have received a double gold star, and the only one in the local brigade.

He officially retired last July after Covid-19 protocols prematurely sidelined him, as no-one over 70 was allowed on active duty. But the brigade, which he joined in 1963, was determined to acknowledge his service.

His days of driving and crewing an engine had already come to an end, as he took up support duties keeping the station, engines and garden spick and span.

It was the little things Bruce did behind the scenes that made him stand out. He quietly worked away ensuring that everything was in working order, and explained things in layman’s terms to new recruits.

He had no desire to move up the ranks. He just wanted to serve his community, support his fellow brigade members, and enjoy their company.

“I didn’t play sport so it (the brigade) was my interest,” he says.

His practical, easy manner helped many, with one recruit happy to receive instructions on how to work the pump after struggling with the training officer’s version. Bruce told him to “turn that, pull this and work that”, and away it went.

Bruce has enjoyed the camaraderie. There was nothing like returning from a fire or accident and debriefing over a few drinks, or enjoying a social evening at the station.

He was often the engine driver, but on at least one occasion directed traffic while fellow officers dealt with an accident. He got left behind, and it wasn’t until they all returned to the station they realised he wasn’t with them. Back they went.

His sharp eye helped a woman whose car had rolled down a bank three hours earlier. He saw a hanky waving in the breeze in a fence and stopped.

In the early years, one of the three fire telephones was in Bruce’s house, with another at the Cheviot Lime Works where he worked until he was 75.

His wife, Valerie, would get the details over the phone while he dressed, before he raced to the station to push the siren and summon others.

Bruce was a dab hand at fundraising. Both he and Val helped cut firewood, which assisted in raising funds for a new station. There were also bottle drives.