By Tony Stickley
Unlike many young men, Hugo Smith never dreamed of one day becoming a fireman.
In fact, he didn’t even play with fire engines as a child.
But as soon as the Cooks Beach teenager reached the age of 16 a few weeks back—the minimum age to join the volunteer fire service—Hugo signed up with his local brigade.
“I couldn’t wait to register,” said Hugo. “I signed the paperwork as soon as I could, straight after my birthday.”
Already, the new recruit has been out on three jobs, learning the ropes from older hands.
One of those old hands just happens to be his father Bruce, a seasoned firefighter with the Cooks Beach service.
“You could say that he was my inspiration and it was because of him that I joined up,” said Hugo.
He said that he would listen, fascinated when Bruce recounted stories of situations he had been called to and what the crews had to do to help people in distress.
“I didn’t really ever think of becoming a fire fighter until after my father joined up a few years ago.
“He told me lots of stuff about what they did, and that kind of got me into it,” Hugo said.
“So, yes…you could say that I am following in my dad’s footsteps.”
Though he had already made his mind up to volunteer, Hugo nevertheless attended training nights and meetings at the station at Cooks Beach, even before turning 16 “just to get a feel for what it was like”.
If anything, those familiarisation trips to the station only inflamed his desire to be a firefighter even more.
“I just decided that’s for me and that it was a great opportunity,” Hugo said.
Now that he is an official member of the Fire and Emergency New Zealand, Hugo will continue regular weekly training sessions at the local fire station before going on a week-long training course in Rotorua in March, after which he will no longer be considered a new recruit but will hold the prestigious rank of “firefighter”.
Hugo said there was a lot to learn but it was essential that everyone in the crew knew exactly what they were doing as they all worked as a team.
While he has been out on jobs with the team, he said that for the moment his role is fairly minor, such as being asked by senior members of the crew to fetch a tool they needed from the truck or sweep up glass from the roadway after an accident.
He said training was high intensity environment where they practised for every situation they were ever likely to encounter, from bush fires to jacking up a truck to remove an injured person that had been run over to a simulation of a searching for victims in a burnt-out, blackened building while wearing full equipment including breathing apparatus.
In order to apply for the fire service, Hugo had to get parental permission from father Bruce and mother, Margot de Zeeuw, both of them very proud and supportive of his decision…Bruce being particularly pleased.
“My father is really excited for me to join the fire department,” said Hugo.
“He is looking forward to us both going to a call-out on the fire truck and us working together as firefighters.”
Hugo said that there were many benefits to firefighting besides being of service to the public.
These included firefighting as being considered the most trusted professions in the world; getting credits for his NCEA exams; learning how to assess and manage risk; practise team-building; and improve ability to deal with stressful situations.
“It also looks great on a CV,” he added.
With two more years to go at Mercury Bay Area School, Hugo is specialising in sciences, particularly his favourite subject, chemistry.
Currently he is working part-time making fish and chips and burgers at Gobblers in Cooks Beach.
When he finishes his studies he might consider following in his father’s footsteps a second time and become a geologist or possibly join the Navy where he could use his scuba and free-diving skills, not to mention learning about fascinating topics such as weapons technology.
Or he may decide to take a different path altogether.
In the meantime, he is happily working part-time while practising hard to advance from being a raw recruit to becoming a recognised firefighter of the brigade.