Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 40, September 1996

By Graham Watton

This article is reproduced from the Paeroa Fire Brigade's book, "100 years of Community Service", with the permission of the publisher.

Planning for the Paeroa Volunteer Fire Brigade's centenary celebrations started two years previously and with the day of the founding of the Brigade, October 23 1895, falling on the Monday of the 1995 Labour Day weekend it was appropriate to hold the celebrations over this weekend.

The planning momentum gathered pace as the weekend approached and the opening of the "shop" in Belmont Road, displaying memorabilia, increased the awareness of this unique milestone in the Brigade's history.

The celebrations commenced on Friday, October 21, with a get-together at the fire station and this proved to be a successful opening for the three days of celebrations.

On Saturday morning neighbouring Brigades from Waihi, Thames, Ngatea, Morrinsville, Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Te Kauwhata, Hamilton and the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Hobsonville arrived with a variety of vintage fire appliances and very early and modern fire fighting equipment. The parade proceeded along the main street and back to the Paeroa Domain where the Hauraki District Mayor His Worship B. J. Morrison, opened the celebrations.

The Mayor told 1500 people that "this is a proud moment for the Paeroa Fire Brigade and on behalf of the Hauraki District and the Paeroa community I extend congratulations and sincere thanks for 100 years of service to this community. This district is extremely proud of its fire brigade and this has been reflected in the public support given during this very long time."

The large crowd flocked around the vintage appliances, all restored to original mint condition, while the children took the opportunity to ride on one 1936 model Ford V8 appliance of the Ngatea Brigade.

The entertainment commenced with the Paeroa Leisure Marchers, a demonstration by Paeroa firemen, in association with the Paeroa Order of St John Ambulance personnel, using their latest equipment to remove injured people from a motor vehicle accident. This was followed by the Te Aroha and District Pipe Band, and the Kerepehi Brass Band.

The highlight of the afternoon was the demonstration by the Royal New Zealand Air Force using an Iroquois helicopter and monsoon bucket to douse a fire. The helicopter carried the bucket to the fire and dumped 300 litres of water at a time on a fierce blaze. This spectacular display was followed by an Air Force fire crew in a special fire appliance attacking the blaze with two high pressure nozzles mounted on their machine as they drove around the blaze.

Saturday night was the official centenary ceremony held in the form of a cabaret in the Paeroa Racing Club's grandstand. Official guests were New Zealand Fire Service Waikato Region Acting Area Manager R. White; executive member of the United Fire Brigades' Association of New Zealand Chief Fire Office Officer G. Booth of the Langholm Fire Brigade, and His Worship the Mayor B. J. Morrison.

There were almost 150 ex-firemen, present firemen and representatives from neighbouring brigades and their partners, plus other guests welcomed by Deputy Chief Fire Officer S. W. Keepa with Mr S. Waikato acting as Master of Ceremonies.

His Worship said "100 years was a very long time, especially if you were in jail, but it is not in the life of a community and on behalf of that community I pay a sincere tribute to all those firemen who have served during those 100 years.

"You (the Brigade) do a magnificent job, and go about doing it in a quiet and most efficient manner, from Santa Parades to cleaning up the aftermath of some horrific tragedies."

Acting Area Commander White said the Paeroa Brigade had made a great commitment to the community "and I am sure this commitment will continue for the next 100 years. The response you have received for your parade today is an excellent example of the high esteem in which you are held by the community you have served so well."

Chief Fire Officer Booth said his organisation was "just a little older, 117 years, than the Paeroa Brigade, but when this Brigade joined in January, 1896, there were very few small community fire brigades as members. Only the brigades from the cities and much larger towns had joined. A majority of the small communities allowed their towns to burn down - one community rebuilt three times before a brigade was formed. Paeroa displayed excellent community spirit when it formed its Brigade in October, 1895, and this spirit has been maintained at the highest level ever since".

The Brigade's Chief Fire Officer W.J. Rackham paid tribute to those who had worked so hard to organise the celebrations. He also thanked those who willingly gave their time and their fire appliances for the parade.

The cabaret continued on until the small hours of Sunday morning and then all were back to the Paeroa Domain at 11 a.m. for the church service with the Kerepehi Brass Band providing the music.

Secretary P. Wallis read the complete roll call for the 100 years and Rev P. Scaife conducted the service with Ex-Fireman T. Spence giving the Bible reading and message.

At the conclusion of the service, special guest for the celebrations, Ex-Secretary C. W. Malcolm of Auckland, the oldest surviving member of the Brigade, and the newest member, Fireman R. A. Paul, cut the jubilee cake.

On Monday morning October 23, 100 years to the day since the Brigade was formed, a short ceremony was held at the fire station to unveil the commemorative plaque presented by the Hauraki District Council. This was undertaken by His Worship and Mr Malcolm.

Then came a surprise for Mr Malcolm, who was having his 90th birthday on the same day. Birthday honours were accorded him along with a beautifully iced cake. Mr Malcolm was momentarily emotionally overwhelmed and then went on in a light-hearted manner to reminiscence over the 21 years he was in the Brigade from 1925 to 1946.

This function brought the weekend celebrations to a close. Overall the weekend was most successful and those many ex-firemen who did not attend are much the poorer for their absence. This weekend was of unique significance - celebrating 100 years of Community service.