Longest-serving volunteer retires

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Firefighter...Lex Robb has been driven by the urge to help the commun ity in his hometown of Balfour

Balfour Volunteer Fire Brigade’s longest-serving member is finally hanging up his helmet.

Lex Robb attended his last official fire brigade meeting yesterday, bringing his 60-year stint with the brigade to a close.

He would miss the people he had met during his time on the brigade, he said.

“I’ve made friends right through New Zealand,” Mr Robb said.

He was recruited at age 18 because he was known as a runner and the fire chief thought his speedy physique would help the brigade win competitions.

“The ex-fire chief said ‘come along to the meeting’.”

Mr Robb, who was fire chief himself from 1985 to 2013, had attended many calls.

Some stood out more than others.

“We got to a grass fire and the pump had fallen off so someone had to go back down the road and get it.”

He had seen the Balfour pub go up in flames.

“We ended up with just three chimneys standing at the pub.”

No-one was hurt and they had been lucky to find, and return, a woman’s diamond rings in the rubble, he said.

The limeworks where he was employed burned down one night shortly after he had left.

“I had to call my boss and say ‘we just burned work down’.”

Many of his memories made him smile but he had experienced difficult times, too.

“I’ve seen things I wish I could forget.”

An incident that had seriously shaken the brigade was the 1992 crash in which a brigade member was been killed.

“The brigade guys needed help so we started a peer support group.”

The size of brigade had been a steady dozen or so throughout his 60 years.

However a change that stood out to him was the improvement in equipment as they had to make do with what they had in the early days.

“We managed to cut a guy out of his car before we had all the cutting gear.

“All the gears gotten better and better.

“It used to be a lot more learn-on-the-job.”

The urge to help the community in which he had lived his whole life had driven him to keep going until now, he said.

“I’m very grateful for the full support of my family over the years.”

They had made sacrifices such as not taking trips so Mr Robb could be available.

Only about 2% of firefighters served longer than 50 years, he said.