Rural fire farewelled in Hurunui

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By AMANDA BOWES

The Hurunui District Council bid farewell to the Hurunui Rural Fire Service at a special awards ceremony on Sunday.

Firefighters from Hawarden-Waikari, Scargill, Motunau, Waiau, Conway Flat, Hanmer Springs and Mt Lyford were presented with special medallions by Hurunui District Mayor, Winton Dalley, to mark the end of an era.

All rural fire services will now be under the umbrella of Fire Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) and looked after by the Government rather than the local councils.

The first rural fire group to be formed in the Hurunui district was in Scargill, back in the 1980s when it was a stand alone group under no jurisdiction.

In the 1990s the Government directed local authorities to set up rural fire services. Hawarden-Waikari was one of the first, while Hanmer Springs was the most recent, being formed just two years ago.

Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley said at the ceremony he was proud to have been part of the service and it was with mixed emotions that as of July 1, the fire volunteers will be part of the Government fire service.

“It is an important point in time, the transition from one to another.”

He acknowledged the rural fire volunteers who not only go to fires but also to road accidents, filled water tanks and swimming pools and helped other firefighters in other districts.

“It is the end of an era for the Hurunui District Council and the beginning of a brand new fire service. There will be a degree of change and some uncertainty,” he said.

Mr Dalley was awarded a medallion as he was one of the first to be involved with the new Hawarden-Waikari group while farming on Broxton Road.

Hawarden-Waikari had a good turnout with around 16 receiving a medallion. Paddy Power, the first controller, Robbie Black, second controller and Steve Clyma, third controller were known as “the light fingered group” as they seemed to somehow appropriate gear.

Mr Dalley described how in the early days, putting out a fire sometimes required what was to hand.

He recalled a fire at Masons Flat which he could see from his farm.

As it crept toward a paddock of barley, rather than go all the way to sign in and then go back to the fire, he took his knapsack sprayer jumped the fence and put it out. The paddock of barley was saved and the fire quelled.

“It was a matter of balancing common sense.”

The early rural fire volunteers had little if anything in the way of protective clothing and as fires were often in summer, firefighters would be putting out fires in t-shirts, shorts and gumboots.

Len Smith who started with the first rural fire in the 1980s and was then Principal Rural Fire Officer for the Council, spoke and said he was amazed at how many of the original people were still there.

“I spent the first 10 years battling the council to recognise how important rural fire was and always battling for gear as there were no helmets.

One year, the allocation for Scargill was one shovel. “As rural fire was an essential part of the district council, I was baffled.” Times changed and gear and vehicles were built up, much from local fundraising efforts. Allan Grigg, the current Principal Rural Fire Officer for the Hurunui District Council thanked all the volunteers for their efforts in keeping property and people safe.

“The volunteers are the ones that drop whatever they are doing to fight fires.”

Allan will be staying on at the council in a Civil Defence role.