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  • Keith Newman

Innovation and excellence behind Haumoana Fire Service

The Haumoana, Te Awanga and Tuki Tuki Volunteer Fire Brigade was formed in 1946 with about 20 members using bucket pumps, beaters, a home-made gear pump to draw water from creeks, and a model T truck.

A quarter of a century later, in 1971, five of the original members were presented with their 25-year gold stars, in March 2014, another five got gold stars in an event attended by two of the surviving founding members, Hugh Baker and Ian Bambry and by 2017, 15 members had served at least 25-years.

In 1996 the Haumoana brigade was approached by the regional manager of St John Ambulance, looking for some assistance as it wasn’t able to turn out to emergencies within the expected 15 minute timeframe.

“We were asked whether we would be interested in upskilling in first aid and helping our community. We didn’t even hesitate,” said former station manager, the late Bill Tims when interviewed in 2015.

“They trained us, and we were one of the first brigades in New Zealand to sign a memorandum of understanding with St John. We’ve never looked back.” The brigade won a chief executive’s award for that.

In August 2013, the Haumoana Fire Brigade was presented with the 2012 Emergency Management Qualification (EMQUAL) Training Excellence Award having achieved the highest level of training in New Zealand.

Bill Tims, had been with the brigade for 40-years, 20 of those as Haumoana fire chief, before his tragic death, when he and his wife were hit by a motorcycle in San Francisco in August 2016.

Bill Tims

Former Haumoana Volunteer Fire Brigade chief Bill Tims

He said one of the great assets of the brigade was the loyalty of members and the community. Generally, he said, people join the brigade to give back to the community.

What other motive could there be than the sense of adrenaline and adventure that comes with answering the pager and the howl of the siren which often means downing one set of tools and heading to the station to pick up another.

“I always remember as young fellow, when I joined the Haumoana brigade, someone said to me, you are going to see some funny things but make sure that it stops at the eye before it gets into your brain’.”

Tims said he had witnessed people with severe burns, strokes, cot deaths, heart attacks and those killed or battered about in car accidents. “The thing is you are there to do the best you can possibly do in the situation. It’ll still play on your mind but you can’t take it on personally…you can only do what you can do.”

Back to the beginning

From the earliest days of Te Awanga and Haumoana, if a fire got out of hand it was every man for himself with help from neighbours but beyond a certain point there was no other option but to step back and let it burn.

In May 1926, Mrs L W. Williams two-storey, 20-room hostel on the beach at Clive Grange, was completely destroyed by fire. “No fire brigade was available to check it.”

Concerns about how locals could rally around to protect each other were further raised when one of the largest houses on the western side of Te Awanga owned by Mr and Mrs J., D. Glenny was reduced to ashes on 22 November 1943.

In the fields of the same property in 1946 a large grass fire got out of control after school boys had been playing with matches. According to Maureen Heaps the boys had set fire to duck feathers among the dry grass while walking to the lake behind the homestead. Local identity Neil Burdon later admitted to being one of the culprits.

The flames were whipped up by the sea breeze and fanned into a grass fire which was so extensive it destroyed the pasture and threatened surrounding farms. Every able-bodied person from Haumoana, Te Awanga and the Tukituki valley rallied around with wet sacks and whatever was available.

Mrs Heaps says it was a massive community effort with helpers arriving home exhausted and black from head to foot.

The Haumoana, Te Awanga, Tuki Tuki Volunteer Fire Brigade, was formed on Saturday 1 June 1946 by those who fought the grassfire; Jim Glenny, Derek van Asch and Eric Haggerty, and other locals.

It came under the control of a fire board of two representatives from each of the areas: R. P. McCarthy as chairman and T. Emmerson secretary from Haumoana; Jim Glenny and Derek van Asch for Te Awanga and C.H. Baker and A. Manning representing Tuki Tuki.

Haumoana Fire Brigade 1940

The Haumoana Fire Brigade, 1940

The brigade had one unit at Haumoana and another at Te Awanga. The Te Awanga group had a small portable gear pump driven by a small petrol motor, fitted with a hose reel containing a water gland engineered by Derek van Asch mounted on the back of Eric Haggerty’s truck.

This was particularly effective where water was limited and had to be drawn from wells and creeks.

The Haumoana group had bucket pumps and beaters that were kept in a storeroom next to the kitchen in the Haumoana Hall. On most occasions it was picked up on the way to a call by Gordon Bambry in his Model T truck. Members wore emergency WW1 fire service uniforms with armbands and tin helmets.

The first “official” call out came on 27 November 1946 to a grass fire which threatened the property of a Mrs Bark in Grange Rd which was quickly bought under control.

The Hawke’s Bay County Council directed the Haumoana Brigade until 1951 when it was taken over by Hastings Fire Board as part of the Hastings extra urban fire authority, which included Havelock North. The Hastings Fire Brigade was the first urban fire authority in New Zealand.

The original call out system was by siren; a hand operated one on top of an old cream separator in Te Awanga and another mounted on the roof of the Haumoana Post Office and electrically operated by the postmistress, Mrs Bambry.

The Brigade recorded only minor fires such as grass, tree stumps and motor vehicle accidents in its early years.

A tree milled from Clifton Station was used to build the brigades headquarters and house the ‘fire engine’ beside the Haumoana Hall, later moving to the rear of the present day fire station in Beach Road.

Station established

In 1947, the manager of Clifton Station, Alex Law, donated pine trees for timber to build the first fire station at Haumoana. Brigade members felled the tree and foundation members Ian and Gordon Bambry of Bambry Transport supplied Austin Trucks to cart the trees to mills in Hastings and along the Tuki Tuki river.

Donated Pine Logs from Clifton Station

Donated logs from Clifton Station

The original 20ft by 30ft station was built by the 12 volunteer brigade members in 1949, on a site adjacent to the Haumoana Hall offered by the Haumoana Beach Improvement Society. Construction took about 10 months and was paid for by the Hawke’s Bay County Council.

It was moved around the mid-1970s to its present at Beach Rd site and initially used as a storage shed housing the first water tanker until a tanker bay was added.

Leading the way

Early in 1951, a trailer-mounted Gwynne pump capable of 19 litres per second was acquired though the NZ Fire Service Council. It was powered by a Standard 10 car motor and taken to call outs by the first brigade member who turned up with a tow bar on his car.

Later in the year, a 1948 Landrover was provided with brigade members enhancing it with fire extinguishers, bucket pumps and a ladder as the first appliance of its type in New Zealand at a cost of £600. The trailer carried the hoses but had no water tank, relying on water supplies near the fire.

According to Haumoana Fire Brigade historians, “being an open top, the Landrover was mighty cold going to calls on a frosty morning.” In 2017 the appliance was in private ownership and still in good working condition.

The original fire station was little more than a glorified shed and to meet with changing requirements new premises were desperately needed.

In 1954, a section backing onto Memorial Park was purchased for the Haumoana Brigade from the Crown for ₤275.

Brigade members borrowed trucks and earth moving equipment to cart 220 yards of fill and level the site. The only cost to the Fire Board was the 38 gallons of petrol used.

On 19 December 1955, as part of a loan approved for Hastings staff housing, ₤2437 was earmarked for the member-built Haumoana station.

Construction began in January 1957 and the 70ft by 30ft building, was finished a few weeks before the official opening.

The Haumoana Fire Station in the 1970s flood.

Haumoana’s second fire station, a one-bay building with a social hall, conceived, designed and planned by chief fire officer L R G 'Tiger' Harlen was officially opened on 15 February 1958 by the chairman of the NZ Fire Service Council, Mr S. Dean.

The local community donated $1200 to equip the station with facilities and amenities for the 15-man brigade.

Quake and appliance upgrade

In 2010 the NZ Fire Service invested $450,000 on quake strengthening the Haumoana Fire Station.

The appliance bays were also enlarged to house a shiny new $400,000 new 2010 Iveco Eurocargo engine

Over 60 current and past brigade volunteers, honorary life members, fire service leaders, and dignitaries celebrated the re-opening, including foundation members, Hugh Baker and Ian Bambry.

Haumoana Volunteer Fire Brigade, 2013

Haumoana Volunteer Fire Brigade, 2013

On average, the brigade receives three calls a week or 110-150 calls a year. It could be anything from a house fire to flooding, a cat up a tree or someone falling off a roof.

About 35-40 percent of call outs are medical related. The weirdest? Having to use a jigsaw to cut up a plastic bath after a two-year-old got his finger stuck down the plughole.

There are neighbouring brigades in Havelock North, Hastings and Napier which still leaves Haumoana to cover quite a substantial area including Clive, Haumoana, Te Awanga and Tuki Tuki Valley.

Sources: Articles in The Evening Post, 24 March 1926 and Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune, 28 November 1946 Maureen Heaps typewritten and handwritten notes. More than wet stuff on the hot stuff, Keith Newman, FireNZ magazine Haumoana Fire Brigade website: Interview with Bill Tims and Brian Slader

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