Milestone . . . Balfour Volunteer Brigade member Lex Robb (left) celebrates with his friend Dipton Volunteer Fire Brigade senior station officer Murray Johns who received receiving his double gold star for 50 years of service on Saturday. PHOTO: SANDRA PREBBLE

Dipton Volunteer Fire Brigade senior station officer Murray Johns has reached a milestone not many firefighters achieve.

On Saturday afternoon Mr Johns was presented with his double gold star award for 50 years of service.

He received the award at the brigade’s prizegiving afternoon tea held at the Dipton Golf Course.

The afternoon was very eventful, Mr Johns said.

He ‘‘got a whale of a shock’’ as the tributes, gifts and awards flowed.

The first surprise of the afternoon happened when he greeted a stranger in the car park who turned out to be Fire and Emergency New Zealand national commander Russell Wood, Mr Johns said.

‘‘I was quite taken aback.’’

Mr Wood presented him with the award.

Former prime minister Sir William English, Southland MP Joseph Mooney and United Fire Brigades Association representative James Walker were among those present.

‘‘It was very special, it really was.’’

Southland Mayor Rob Scott also presented him with a Southland Council Community Award.

Mr Johns, who farms near the town, joined the brigade when he was 19 years old.

‘‘I think you go along there to help your community.

‘‘It’s pretty rewarding and very special.’’

Given his time again he would join the brigade and had ‘‘no regrets’’.

‘‘I will keep chugging as long as my health holds hands.’’

As he got older he became more choosy about which activities he took part in, he said.

He was not as keen as he once was to climb ladders or crawl under buildings.

‘‘Your body tells you what you can do and what you can’t do.’’

One of the highlights of his time was helping build a new fire station about 40 years ago.

There was great camaraderie among the brigade members, he said.

‘‘It’s team, the fire brigade.

‘‘You’ve got to rely on your mates when you goto a fire.’’

The fire brigade competitions were always enjoyable, he said.

‘‘We’ve won a few trophies here and there over the years.’’

His wife Jenny and family members had made it possible for him to serve in the brigade, he said.

The farm was closer to the station than his house and sometimes if he was out working he would turn up to the station in the tractor.

‘‘I get a bit of flack for that but that doesn’t matter.

‘‘It’s easier than having to go home and then come back down again.’’

One of the fires he remembers clearly was a paddock of cocksfoot grass that was alight.

The smoke from the fire was so thick ‘‘you can’t see the hand in front of your face’’.

The wind was blowing the flames towards a paddock of wheat. In those days there was no breathing apparatus.

The only way he could breath was to lie on the ground and breath the air that came out with the water at the end of the hose.

‘‘I never smoked in my life but I got a gutsful of smoke in my lungs that day . . .you just run out of air basically.’’

Fortunately the fire did not reach the wheat.

Chief fire officer Lynden Prebble said it was not common for firefighters to reach 50 years of service.

‘‘There’s only about 280-odd people in New Zealand have achieved 50 years.’’

Mr Johns was a very reliable brigade member, CFO Prebble said.

‘‘You would think after 50 years that he might have lost a bit of interest. He still turns up to training just about more often than anybody else and turns out to incidents.’’

He was the first to put his hand up to volunteer for any jobs that needed doing and even wanted to help organise Saturday’s prizegiving.

‘‘We had to hold him back.’’