By Mick Jensen
Alan Burgess has clocked up 50 years of volunteer firefighting service.Alan Burgess stepped forward as a volunteer firefighter as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, and 50 years on, he’s still very much involved.
Locally born and raised, he has been Ashburton Volunteer Fire Brigade’s chief for 30 years and early next year his years of loyal service with be recognised at a formal ceremony.
Mr Burgess follows in the footsteps of his great grandfather who joined the Ashburton brigade in 1900.
“Mates of my father were in the brigade and I decided to join because I wasn’t playing a lot of sports and wanted to stay active.
“There were 25 volunteers and around 100 calls a year when I joined and today we have 35 volunteers and more than 400 calls.”
Mr Burgess started three years after another local long-server, Graeme Baker, who was to later to become his deputy for 20 years.
Big fires etched on his memory, he said, included the Baker brothers carpet shop fire, the West Street mill fire and the fire at Seales Winslow.
Now retired, Mr Burgess said he was very grateful to his employer of 34 years, alcohol beverage company Lion, which had supported his fire volunteering duties.
That support had enabled him to give time to the brigade.
“My role today is much more administrative than it was.
“I still need to keep my skill levels up, but I’m not as hands-on as I once had to be.”
From the late 1970s until the early 1990s, Mr Burgess and fellow fire volunteers enjoyed regular inter-brigade competitions around the country.
Camaraderie was strong in the brigade because firefighters relied on each other, he said.
They brought a variety of skills from their jobs, interests and family lives into the role.
The role of a firefighter was more diverse these days, and as well as fighting fires, it included a co-responder role with the ambulance service, and police support at motor vehicle accidents, he said.
The Ashburton brigade was under the control of the borough, and later county council, when Mr Burgess started.
In 1976 the brigade operated under the NZ Fire Service banner, while rural brigades remained with the council.
Two and a half years ago brigades merged under one umbrella to become Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).
Ashburton district brigades were among the first to merge, and that merger was still being rolled out nationally, said Mr Burgess.
The focus for FENZ was on a high skill set for firefighters, ongoing training and safety.
Alan Burgess’ fire volunteering service will be celebrated on February 22, but the station chief has no plans to step down yet.
“The fire service has been a big part of my life and if I do decide to take it a bit easier, there will be other duties that I can help out with around the place.”