Sunday, 07 June 2020


End of an era for Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade

By Stephan Bosman

The Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade AGM on Wednesday evening last week signaled the end of an era when Merv George stepped down as Chief Fire Officer. Merv was elected to the position of CFO on Sunday 20 May 1984, less than eight and a half years after joining the brigade as a volunteer on Wednesday 12 November 1975. 

Don Bates, a Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade life member, did the numbers. On Wednesday last week Merv has been a member of the brigade for 42 years and 180 days. “That’s 15,450 days of faithful duty,” Don said on Wednesday evening.

In addition to the members of the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade, the AGM was also attended by members of the Matarangi Volunteer Rural Fire Force, the Kuaotunu Volunteer Rural Force, the Cooks Beach Volunteer Fire Brigade, the Hahei Volunteer Fire Brigade and Aaron Waterreus, Fire and Emergency New Zealand area manager.

Merv enjoyed many highlights in the years he was CFO. He was president of the Goldfields Fire Brigades Sub Association, the Auckland Fire Brigades Association and the United Fire Brigades Association of New Zealand. He’s a life member of all three organisations. He’s also a life member of the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade. “My life membership of my local brigade is held dearest and nearest to my heart,” Merv said when he addressed the AGM.

In the early 2000s Merv attended a leadership course at the Australian Institute of Police Management on recommendation from Mike Hall, the national commander of the New Zealand Fire Service at the time. That opened a path for him into Australian waterways (hose running) challenges. From 2005 to 2008 he was the chairman of the Australian Waterways Committee, during which time an Australasian waterways challenge was established.

In 2010 Merv received a Queen’s Service Medal. “It’s something I put down to a team effort and I was proud to receive the recognition on [behalf of my fellow brigade members],” Merv said on Wednesday evening.

Merv also said that when he became CFO, he remembered someone who once said leaders have to surround themselves with good people and their job will be successful and enjoyable. “I have been extremely lucky to have had some very good people around and with me,” he said. He specifically mentioned Gary (better known as Spida) Mangin, his Deputy Chief Fire Officer for 26 years, Roley Chaney, the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade Deputy Chief Fire Officer for the past eight years and Derek Collier, the brigade’s Senior Station Officer for the past eight years.

During Merv’s time as CFO, the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade moved to its new fire station in Joan Gaskell Drive and its fire appliances have been upgraded. One of Merv’s goals was to leave the brigade in a better position than what it was when he became CFO. Everyone agreed on Wednesday evening that he has succeeded spectacularly. The brigade is financially sound, a solid membership retention and succession plan is in place and it’s enjoyable and fun to be a member of the brigade.

Roly Chaney has taken over as CFO from Merv on Wednesday evening. He has big shoes to fill. Once again, Don Bates did the numbers. Roley was five years and 115 days old when Merv joined the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade. If he stays in the role of CFO as long as Merv did, he’ll be 82 years and six days old when he steps down. By then, Don will be 101 years and 169 days old. “I take this opportunity now to tender my apology from that meeting,” Don said on Wednesday evening.

A celebration of Merv’s 34 years and 10 days as CFO of the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade will be held on Saturday 16 June.



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