Friday, 21 June 2019


Queen's Service Medal for Warwick Brooks

Only four fire service volunteers have been awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in this year’s New Year’s Honours and Warwick Brooks of Tairua is one of them.

Warwick’s award acknowledges his time in the fire service and also his services to the community. He is currently on Tairua-Pauanui Community Board as well as the Waikato Regional Council Catchment Committee.

Warwick has been involved in the Tairua Volunteer Fire Brigade for 32 years, 23 of them as the Chief Fire Officer. In 2001, he handed over the position to current chief, Chris New. After a brief retirement, he returned to serve as the brigade secretary/treasurer for several years and is currently patron of the brigade.

Back in 1969, Brian Cullen was the Chief Fire Officer of the Tairua Volunteer Fire Brigade. After an early morning blaze on Mount Paku involving power lines, Brian persuaded electrician Warwick to join the brigade. This was a year after he and wife Larraine moved from Palmerston North to Tairua, encouraged by work at the Hoppers development in Pauanui. The area had only received electric power five years before.

Warwick and Larraine were in their early 20s when they moved from Palmerston North and the change of lifestyle was an attraction. They had not been involved in voluntary work before and Tairua relied on volunteers. Doing something for the community was a new experience and they found it very satisfying.

At that time all the emergency services were run by volunteers and those volunteers were the firefighters. “They substituted for the ambulance as well as search and rescue,” says Warwick. “The nearest doctor and pharmacy were in Thames. If someone got lost, a boat sunk or a leg was broken, the fire brigade stepped in to help.”

Tairua’s fire brigade started up in 1964, using a trailer pump donated by the Waihi Fire Brigade. Their “headquarters” was situated where the Richardson Real Estate office is today. “I remember the building, you could see daylight between the boards, it had a dirt floor and power came from the picture theatre next door,” says Warwick. “It had power for one light bulb plus two fridges - DB and NZ Brewery products.”

Larraine says Tairua was a very male orientated town in the late 1960s. “All fishing and hunting,” she says. “And we didn’t ever need caterers at things like funerals because everyone brought a plate.”

The Tairua Volunteer Fire Brigade used to get a lot of hand-me-down equipment and the firefighters even built the new fire station themselves. “Ray Cameron from the pub helped us a lot,” says Warwick. “Tony Marquet donated the land and we did the building work on weekends.”

At some point the fire appliance was an ex-army 4 x 4 converted gren gun carrier from World War II, soon to be followed by a 1936 Ford fire engine donated from Picton. Then Tairua was one of two New Zealand fire brigades to receive ex-London fire engines of 1956 vintage. When the fire engine arrived painted green, it was nicknamed The Green Goddess and then given a coat of traditional red.

Larraine remembers that phones had just three digits and shared party lines.

She remembers being at the brigade’s Christmas party with their children - Darren, Tony and Grant - when there was a call to a major fire on Mount Paku. “We were flagging people down and asking them to take sacks up to try and control the fire,” she says.

Another major blaze was at Tanners Sawmill, where the firefighters turned up in the middle of the night to face a huge ball of fire. Some of the mill was saved. “The local shop put on breakfast for us and the publican arrived with liquid refreshments,” says Warwick. “Sylvia Tanner brought some soup. Her gesture was appreciated, but I have a feeling the soup went cold.”

Half the firefighters played rugby and if the siren went during a home game, there was a quick discussion with the referee, the game was stopped and quite likely the players would return after their duties to continue the game.

The fire siren was an ex-war siren and an extra one was installed near the local pub be sure that the firefighters could hear it if enjoying a beer.

The fire emergency number was 749 and Warwick and Larraine had an emergency phone installed in their home, with a continuous ring.

Of course there were no health and safety rules to abide by in those early days, which Warwick acknowledges is a huge factor in the fire service today. “Now we have gloves for this and gloves for that, and there’s a lot of training,” he says. “It’s a big commitment, but is also a very worthwhile thing to do.”

There has been a lot of fundraising over the years, including vital equipment such as the jaws of life lifting bags, resuscitation gear, defibrillators and many items to assist in training.

Warwick remembers with a wry smile the effort of a fundraising pub to pub walk from the Kopu Hotel to the Sir George Grey Hotel in Tairua. “Just as we finally arrived in town, the siren went,” he says. “We were exhausted, but went to the call-out and then returned to our route to finish the fundraiser.”

Warwick says being involved in the Tairua Volunteer Fire Brigade means meeting a great cross-section of people. It also means you belong to a nationwide fraternity of firefighters and their families. “It’s a way of life for the firefighters and their families,” he says. “They all play a role. otH

You can go anywhere in New Zealand and call at a volunteer fire station and you get warm camaraderie.”

In Tairua the Returned and Services’ Association has a strong link with the fire brigade. Some 30 years ago the then Tairua-Pauanui RSA, operating as a sub branch of the Thames RSA, were offered the use of the fire brigade’s social rooms to hold their weekly gatherings. “Sadly this tradition ended 18 months ago due to a policy change by the fire service,” says Warwick, who is also currently the RSA vice-president.

Warwick says he feels proud, honoured, humble, and a little embarrassed over the attention his Queen’s Service Medal award has created. Meanwhile he awaits the call to Wellington to receive his Queen’s Service Medal at Government House.

Pictured: Patron of Tairua Volunteer Fire Brigade, Warwick Brooks, with a gift acknowledging his time in the brigade.



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