Calling time after 45 years: firefighter there from the start

Wallacetown Fire Brigade volunteer firefighter Murray Buchanan (73) outside the fire station.

After 45 years of service to the community, Wallacetown Fire Brigade volunteer Murray Buchanan retired from his role as a firefighter early this week.

He recalled in the late 1970s there was no fire station in the small town.

At the time, his brother-in-law had a fire in his home and the fire engine had to travel from Invercargill.

“The flames were licking up the side of the walls of the house and it took the fire brigades about 20 minutes, which was a great effort from them, but it was too slow for the time that we needed them there,” he said.

This incident resulted in the duo making inquiries with people within the community and presenting the idea of building a fire station in the area.

“We approached the officials in town and the fire chief said, ‘If you can prove there are enough people willing to do the job, and you can build a fire station to house the fire engine, than we will support it’,” Mr Buchanan said.

A team of about 10 community members rallied together in 1978 and signed up to volunteer for the fire brigade.

The group worked to erect the local fire station and depended on the support of the small community, he said.

“We turned to people in the community to support us with the funds to build the fire station, so some of them loaned us money, and 99% of the people when we tried to pay them back later told us to keep it.”

There had been many changes since the late 1970s. The number of volunteers had increased to 25 and the equipment had improved, Mr Buchanan said.

“The equipment is far more sophisticated, you have the breathing apparatus, and the equipment is lighter and easier to work with, and the fire engines are faster.”

As a life member of the brigade, he had plenty of medals to show his dedication and efforts of serving the small community.

Throughout the years, he could recall sad and challenging times, including his first fire incident which was an aeroplane crash.

But he also remembered the positive experiences which included competitions with other voluntary fire brigades within Southland.

There were also several fundraisers the brigade would take part in to raise money for the station.

“We used to pick up spuds from people as a fundraiser, we made cheese rolls and one of the guys was a stock agent so we used to clean out the bottom of woolsheds — we had a lot of fun together and it was all for the community.”

It had been rewarding helping out the small community and it would be the volunteers he would miss the most, but he knew they would still find time outside of duties to catch up.

“There is some amazing men and women who are volunteers, so I am not worried about leaving them to it.”