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Gold Stars for 25 years of service

Forest fires, some “very physical” training sessions, freeing drivers trapped on desolate rural roads, and bringing people back from the brink of death: It’s been anything but a dull quarter-century for long-haul firefighters Jo Hayes and Tim Scott.

And yet, they’re certain they wouldn’t be doing anything else.

Hayes and Scott, long-time members of the Masterton Composite Fire Brigade, have received Gold Star awards recognising their 25 years of service to Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

Volunteer Hayes and senior career firefighter Scott were honoured in a special ceremony at Masterton Fire Station on October 22 – and were presented with Gold Star badges by David Ackroyd, former president of the Wellington Provincial Fire Brigade.

The Gold Star badge has eight points, representing the qualities prized by the fire service: Service, efficiency, valour, resourcefulness, integrity, mobility, strength and unity.

In his speech, Ackroyd acknowledged Hayes and Scott for their years of “dedication and commitment” to their brigade and community – and made special mention of Hayes’ “impressive” 98 per cent attendance rate at emergency call-outs.

Hayes, who joined the service in 1997, was the Masterton brigade’s first female volunteer firefighter – and one of only a small group of New Zealand volunteers to receive a Gold Star. Traditionally, only about 4 per cent of volunteer firefighters continue past the two-decade mark.

“A Gold Star is a unique honour, presented to a selective group,” Ackroyd said.

“For our firefighters, this can often be a thankless job. But they don’t do it for the thanks.

“They do it for the satisfaction helping others – even if that sometimes comes at the expense of their families and loved ones.”

Hayes said she was inspired to join the service after taking part in a training exercise – and wanted to do something “meaningful and purposeful” for the community where she grew up.

She has continued training and upskilling herself throughout the years – for example, training in driving heavy vehicles off-road and operating water pumps during fire call-outs.

“The way I see it, it’s never too late to learn something new,” she said.

“The training is very physical and challenging – but I enjoy being pushed beyond my comfort zone. And I think it brings you and your team closer together.

“In this job, you need to have confidence in your team, and draw on each other’s strengths.”

Hayes, who works as a diversional therapist in aged care, said she is grateful for her employer’s support – and making allowances for the times she has to attend an emergency during work hours.

“It’s amazing, especially in this economic climate, when employers will allow their workers to volunteer.

“The fire service knows our employment has to come first, and I can’t walk out of a room of people who are completely dependent on me.

“But my work understands there are times I will need attend a major disaster – and they’ve been incredibly supportive.”

She said she has “never felt intimidated” being one of the few female firefighters in the Masterton brigade.

“For me, in any job, you have to work to earn people’s trust and respect. And I believe I have done that.

“All the guys I’ve worked over the years with have been a great support.”

Scott, a former engine repair specialist, first joined the service as a volunteer while living in Tangimoana, a small fishing town on the Rangitikei River.

“At the time, there were a lot of forest fires in the area. And that was back in the day when community members were able to come and help out – before the health and safety regulations.

“So, my brother-in-law and I grabbed some shovels, jumped in the truck and headed out to see what we could do.

“I joined the volunteer brigade and knew pretty early on firefighting was the career for me.”

Scott, who met wife Kelly in the service, eventually joined his first recruits course and, on qualifying, got a job in Masterton – which he admits wasn’t his first choice.

“But, when we got there, we thought ‘this isn’t a bad spot.’ And we haven’t looked back since.”

Scott remained in Wairarapa for nine years, before transferring to the Palmerston North Fire Brigade to be closer to family, but eventually returned to Masterton in 2020.

He enjoys the variety of working in Masterton, covering a “huge geographical area” and attending many types of call-outs: from grass fires, to medical emergencies, to motor vehicle accidents, to hazardous chemical spills.

Some jobs, he said, can be traumatic – particularly those involving CPR.

“What I find particularly difficult is doing CPR on infants. One time, I had to do two of those calls in one week.

“Those jobs are hard on your mental health. But it helps to know you and your team are experiencing all the same things, and we can debrief with each other, and our officers, if we need to.

“It also helps knowing you’re making a difference. We’re not able to bring everyone back – but, when you do save a life, it’s a huge buzz.”

He recalls a recent incident where he and his team attended a crash, which left a young woman trapped upside down inside a drain.

“We were able to cut her out of the car reasonably quickly – and people watching nearby said it was impressive to watch.

“Those situations are stressful – but your training and knowledge just kick in. You know you’ve got a job to do, and you’re there to help people – so you just get on with it.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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