Firies step back from the action
EMERGENCY pagers at midnight are a thing of the past for retired Kyogle firefighters Robert Felton and Barry Reeves.
Former deputy captain Mr Felton joined the brigade 47 years ago at the age of 24 while Mr Reeves has been with the service for 35 years, joining when he was 30.
"It was our way of giving back to the community," said Mr Felton, who has never been able to get further than a few minutes away from the station in all that time. "Rather than join Apex or the Lions, we became firefighters."
While Mr Felton will enjoy a bit of leisure and travel, Mr Reeves still has work to do.
He is a roofing plumber who has no intention of hanging up his tool bag just yet. Having said that, he intends to find time for a bit more fishing now that he has hung his uniform up for good.
Both men said their biggest event was the 2005 Norply plywood factory fire, which attracted brigades from Tweed to Evans Head including seven pumpers and eight Rural Fire Service tankers.
"They called us in about 20 minutes too late and by the time we arrived it was full-on," recalled current captain Bob Crawford.
But other events have also imprinted themselves on the men's memories: A crashed crop duster and a rolled tanker at Wiangaree that spilled 23,000 litres back in 1990.
There was a boarding house blaze that threatened destruction of the neighbouring bakehouse and ambulance station, and most recently a roaring fire in a McDade's furniture shop that tested all their skills.
Vehicle crashes, especially those involving children, took their toll on all involved.
Where once the debrief involved a beer in the station after the event, nowadays it's more formal than that - but perhaps not as effective.
Camaraderie, however, has always been strong at the Kyogle station and Deputy Felton and Mr Reeves recalled fondly the years they competed as part of the Kyogle brigade in the state bi-
annual demonstration events, when teams from firefighting units all over NSW gathered to test their skills.
In looking back they both remember the old open-air cab of the Dennis Ace pumper, with its hand-cranked siren and they compare it with the $250,000 Isuzu used today.
"Back then it was all about fighting a fire with a big hose," said Mr Felton.
"Now we use the jaws of life on crashed vehicles, we are trained in rescue and abseiling, we use the defibrillator, we are the responsible authority for HazMat and we work with the paramedics monitoring patients."
And there's another difference from the days of old:
"For a one-hour fire there's now two to three hours spent filling out forms on the computer," Mr Felton said.
"And I won't miss that!"