They might have been acceptable back in the anything-goes ’70s but Frank Turner reckons he can’t just “rock up” to fire callouts in his jandals and shorts any more. And certainly not since becoming deputy chief of the Raglan Volunteer Fire Brigade five or six years ago.
“You’ve got to be in full kit now, but in the old days there wasn’t much gear,” he laughs.
The stricter dress code’s just one change the born-and-bred local has seen since first volunteering for the Raglan fire service exactly 40 years and one week ago today.
Despite the decades however – and being the brigade’s longest-serving member – Frank insists it feels like yesterday he started out.
But there’ve been plenty of changes over the years all the same.
“Nowadays it’s harder to join,” the 62-year-old admits. “You’ve got to dot the i’s and cross the t’s … health and safety (regulations) are more difficult.”
Volunteers these days have two sets of gear, unlike yesteryear, he adds – one for accidents and scrub fires, the other for all fire callouts except “the scrubbies”.
Firefighters of old, Frank reveals, wore pretty much only plastic leggings whereas they’re kitted out these days in everything from woollen bunker coats and overtrousers to heavy-duty boots and ‘flash hoods’ for neck protection.
He can remember way back looking down and feeling a bit of a hot leg through one of those plastic leggings which, ironically, had itself caught fire.
But apart from that Frank’s suffered nothing much more serious over the years, other than the pain of trying to get back to sleep after middle-of-the-night callouts. It’s the adrenalin rush that keeps you awake, he explains, “and it’s always been the same from day one”.
The biggest fire the Raglan brigade’s fought during Frank’s time, he recalls, was the spectacular early morning wharf blaze five years ago. Two years previously the brigade was called out to its biggest scrub fire at Wainui Reserve, with hot spots flaring up over an entire weekend.
Inevitably he’s also attended some pretty serious road accidents this side of the divvy, but against that there have been lighter moments too.
Frank reckons the funniest callout he’s experienced was to a Dalmatian – coincidentally a breed often adopted as firehouse or brigade mascots – which they had to dig out of the sand-dunes at Kopua campground. The dog had been looking for rabbits when the sand caved in, burying it about one-and-a-half metres underground.
Then there was the cockatiel – high in one of Bow Street’s iconic Phoenix palms – that had to be hosed down. “They don’t like water,” Frank explains.
Frank rates the camaraderie of fellow fire-fighters as one of the best parts of the job. There have always been 24 volunteers in the brigade, including women in recent times. The sense of “giving something back to the community” has also played a part.
Frank – who runs his car painting business these days from his Wainui Road home just south of the Ngarunui Beach turnoff – has also both refereed and coached local rugby for 30-odd years.
That’s no small community commitment all-up considering there are more than 100 brigade callouts annually now compared with 20-odd back in the mid ’70s.
But this seasoned volunteer’s not fazed. “It keeps you on your toes, keeps you from getting bored.”
With so many callouts the early brigade’s single-cab fire truck – which carried two people inside and up to half a dozen others hanging on the back – has made way now for two double cabs.
The aim is to get the first truck away within four minutes of the callout, says Frank – although he’s usually on the second one because he lives and works further from the fire station than other volunteers, who scurry from all directions of the town centre when that siren sounds.
Frank’s keen to stay on as a member of the brigade yet another decade – to get a second gold star to match his first marking 25 years’ service – and he’s looking forward to taking his 10-month-old grandson down to the station one day when he can appreciate it.
He will be officially acknowledged for his “huge commitment” at Raglan Brigade’s honours night in November, says local fire chief Kevin Holmes.
It’s been a “sterling effort”, Kevin adds of his deputy’s 40 years of service. “It’s not easy dragging yourself out of bed to go to someone else’s aid in the middle of the night.”