The first 25 years

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03.06.63 The Matata Urban Fire District under the control of the Whakatane County Council and

directed by the members of the appointed Matata Urban Fire District Committee, two appointed by the Whakatane County Council, councillor G.P.M. Whitham - chairman and C.R. Paltridge; representing the Underwriters Association C.E. Hale and the Fire Brigade’s representative C.F.O. T.W. Dobson met for the first time and submitted the first estimates sent to the Fire Service Council for the year ending 31-03-64.

Fire appliance £150 ($300)

Building £300 ($600)

Hose and equipment £526 (1,062)
22.06.63 First of many working bees on Fire Station.
24.07.63 The first of many second-hand Fire Appliance, a 1938 Fago and equipment, purchased from Rotorua, costing £160 ($320) it was housed in the Ministry of Works depot next door to the Fire Station site.
19.11.63 Fire Station roof fitted and a second hand siren and motor purchased from Tokoroa costing £15 ($30). Fire appliance in new home.
27.11.63 Brigade praised in local press (Beacon) for prompt action in quelling a fire in Mrs Flanery’s residence, Nesbitt Street, which caused very minor damage.
The Brigades “call out” system left a lot to be desired, as Matata and surrounding area was served by a manual telephone exchange, housed in The Post Office building, which also accommodated the Postmaster and family.
The exchange was only operational between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. The operators were supplied with a list of brigade members with their home and work numbers and when receiving a call for help requiring the Fire Service, the operator would call those members, replaying the information to them. The Postmaster was very obliging, he was able to (if at home) receive a distress call, after operating hours had closed and pass on the message. Fortunately his services were required only once (a scrubfire).
The brigade was not at all happy with this situation and began negotiations with the Post and Telegraph to install a fire alarm switch at the exchange so that the operator could activate the siren. Also they started the ball rolling to gain a full 24-hour service.

04.03.64 The first Brigade Ladies Committee was formed in place of the original Fire Committee and their fund raising effort netted £132 ($264).

Mrs Iris Paltridge Mrs Alice Dobson Mrs C. Brussen

Mrs Nada Lees Mrs Bunny Paterson Mrs Betty Grey

Mrs Mate Raureti Mrs Laurel Foote Mrs Vera Henry

Mrs Thelma Longstaff Mrs Pixie Sykes Mrs Gwen Jarman

Mrs Margaret Marr Miss Pink Burt
31.03.64 Brigades first AGM was held in the new Fire Station and members sat on scaffolding planks supported on beer crates, with a full complement of 15 members present.
C.F.O. T.W. Dobson D.C.F.O. C. Paltridge 3rd Officer L. Raureti

Sub Officer W.J. Paterson Sec. Fireman N. Jarman Fireman W. Foote

Fireman A.J. Longstaff Fireman T. Davis Fireman J. Blackwell

Fireman J. Langdon Fireman P. Nadan Fireman D. Semmens

Fireman R. Hill Fireman R. H. Marr Messenger J. Foote
The brigade was allowed 14 members but could enrol a person between the ages of 14 - 16 years as a messenger (J. Foote). Social account opened with a donation of £15-7-7 ($30.77).
Parade nights changed from Tuesday to Monday as more than half of the brigade members were involved with rugby, who also trained on a Tuesday night.
By now brigade members felt they were part of the Volunteer Fire Service, having a station building (although not complete) and appliance that was adequate and enough equipment to get by which was being increased at a steady rate. The fire fighting kit consisted of helmet, overalls and gumboots. New dress uniforms (cap, tunic, trousers and tie) were being purchased for the longest serving members first, as soon as finance was available, costing £14-15-6 ($29.56).
18.02.65 The operator could now activate the fire siren at the exchange.
24.09.65 A new Coventry Climax featherweight motor pump (F.W.M.P) costing £450 ($900) was fitted onto a trailer purchased from the Kawerau wreckers for £10 ($20). This trailer had its own hand braking system, telescopic type support legs and was fitted out by the members with a battery, generator, electric starter (for motor pump), lighting, including a spotlight. All the equipment required becoming a self-contained unit that could operate from either open water or a reticulated water supply. And was proved to be a most valued part of the equipment in the future and often referred to as “The Ladies Pump” as they raised the finance required.
The government’s restructuring of the Local Bodies Act brought about reformation with in the brigade’s local authority and a change of Councillors and staff. Which in turn led to a more amicable relationship between the council staff and not only the brigade but also the County Town Committee (which replaced the RatePayers Association) that was to continue for many years.
The County Town Committee now knew the amount of finance they could utilise and were informed of the Government Subsidiaries that were available and could also decide on which of the many projects it was to be spent on.
This looked likely to be a difficult time for C.F.O. Tom Dobson, as he was also the chairman of the County Town Committee and his main concern was the water supply. Not only because of the Fire Service but also as a plumber in country areas water supply was a major part of his livelihood.
The order of priority was quickly sorted out; the water supply became No. 1 and for the first time the council and staff agreed.
Work began on installing new water mains with fire hydrants, but that wasn’t going to solve the problem of quality and quantity, as the source The Waitepuri streams volume was not great enough to meet the demand. So the search began for a new source of supply and many years were to pass before it was found and tapped (to long a story to write here).
To relate 3rd Officer Dick Marr’s explanation on how slow the water flow was “you can connect a line of 3 lengths of hose to standpipe with the branch attached, order water on, place the branch on the ground, roll and light a smoke before the water arrives”. And Dick was always quite happy to demonstrate the fact.
February 1966 for the first time members of the brigade attended the Annual Conference of the United Fire Brigades Association (U.F.B.A.) held in Whangarei.
21.03.66 In 2 years the Ladies Committee had raised £742 ($1,484).
15.08.66 Sub Officer Noel Jarman suggested the streets of Matata should be sign posted, strange as it may seem now, this was the situation then. The siren would sound, one would dash to the station, grab the phone to be told, “Kelly Brown’s stove is on fire” you would inquire, “where’s that” the reply “I think it’s next door to Bill Smiths”. Although the streets were named when surveyed, very few people knew the name of the street they had lived in for years.
This task was completed within a few months by The Council, plus a few years later giving every section a number, but the brigade found themselves with a new roll to play, educating the public to use their number and street name.
26.08.66 Ex. D.C.F.O. Cyril Paltridge presented the brigade’s first honours at a social held at the fire station to D.C.F.O. Bill Paterson, Sub Officer Noel Jarman and Jimmy Foote with their 3-year certificates and C.F.O. Tom Dobson with two 2-year bars for 13 years service.
30.08.66 The telephone exchange now operating a full 24-hour service.
11.02.67 A social at the local hotel with invitations for the first time to neighbouring brigades, Rangitaiki Dairy, Fletchers, Te Puke and The Whakatane Board Mills.
17.04.67 Brigade looking for new recruits as there are only 9 serving personnel left after 3 members left the district this year.
May to September 1967 working bees continue, to line, plaster and paint interior of station.
02.01.68 First suspected arson, Eddie Stoneham’s garage and store shed 30% damage.
05.05.68 After the first 5 years the brigade averaging 4.5 fires call per year.
14.09.68 Exterior of the station plastering completed.
26.10.68 Presentation of honours at the brigade’s first cabaret held at the Awakaponga Hall. The U.F.B.A. President C.F.O. A.H. Downey presented them to: Fireman Stanley Marks and Sub/Officer Allan Dobson 3 year certificates, D.C.F.O. Bill Paterson and 3rd Officer Dick Marr 5 year medals, C.F.O. Tom Dobson 2 year bar for 15 years.

Jan 1970 Hose tower erected cost $349.67 constructed by Fireman Bob Gardiner and The Chief, still in use today.

The Brigades membership has increased to 12. Extracted from The Chiefs Annual “the efforts of the brigade in promoting the hazards of fire within our fire district must be regarded as worthwhile. And residents congratulated as this last year was the driest we have experienced making the danger of fire very high and only 5 calls were received, while in all other surrounding areas there was a considerable increase, especially grass and scrub fires”.
During this same month while at an evening training, the brigade experienced a near tragic incident, before the planned exercise of relaying water from the lagoon using both pumps had begun. The trailer with its pump was connected to the towbar of the appliance and with a crew of four plus two firemen (David Semmens and Brian Dobson) standing on the rear step of the appliance it moved off. Unfortunately David fell off, flying outward feet first and the trailer wheel bounced over his helmet with his head still in it. Before anyone could get to him, he was on his feet. “Bloody Hell!, Dave you alright?” yelled The Chief, David replied “sorry Chief I buggered that up”. He was unharmed, not even a scratch, only to his helmet it was grazed on one side.
There was no way David would part with that helmet or have it repainted; it is now hanging on the wall in the Social Room.
20.04.70 7th AGM Brigade members all present
C.F.O Tom Dobson D.C.F.O Bill Paterson 3rd Officer Dick Marr

Sub Officer Allan Dobson Fireman Bob Gardiner Fireman Stanley Marks

Fireman Gordon Parkes Fireman Chas Semmens Fireman Clem Elliott

Fireman Alwyn Renata Fireman Dave Semmens

Secretary Fireman Brian Dobson
03.10.70 Cabaret again held in the Awakaponga Hall, by now it had become an established yearly event, keenly looked forward to by everyone who was able to attend. The supper supplied by the brigades Ladies Committee had become and remained the main feature of these very successful evenings.

19.04.71 The Brigade is investigating ways to improve communications by installing a radio, to link with neighbouring brigades, as well as internally from the scene of the fire or

incident to base.

Finally a ray of hope for a new water supply, a spring has been located 6½ km. From town, west of Awakaponga and a Council Engineer is calibrating the volume of flow over a period of 12 months, plan and estimate the cost of utilizing the water from this source.

17.01.72 A change of appliance, a 1939 V8 with reconditioned motor, purchased from Kinleth Mill. D. Harley of North Shore bought the old Fargo for $150. The V8 powered a Colonial 3 stage centrifugal pump, rated to deliver up to 400 gals. of water per minute, brigade members thought they had been done, for when trying it out only about half of the expected rate of flow could be achieved, the pump was opened up to find that one of the vaned impellers had been fitted upside down and when rectified it performed as rated.
During the same month heavy rain caused a large slip to completely bury the dam used for the towns water supply. And while the slip was being cleared and necessary repairs made the brigade’s featherweight pump was put to use pumping water from the Waimea stream into the water mains for five days. Very good for public relations and a great add for the “Ladies Pump”. Even made T.V. news.
17.04.72 The painting of the exterior of the Fire Station completed the Building project.
19.04.72 A fire in the Public School classroom 10.35 p.m., only minor damage - suspected arson.
08.05.73 A decade of service, not quite averaging 5 fire calls per year. The brigade were and still are greatly assisted by our Ladies Committee, they have over the last nine years raised $3,740 for equipment and the station building. This was a great year for not only the Fire Service but also all the residents of Matata as the new water supply had past all the tests; excellent quality and adequate quantity was piped into the town from Awakaponga and turned on.
There were many hilarious moments on training nights, as the increased volume and pressure was to take its toll, especially the slow and casual ones, there were often many drowned firemen by the end of the evening exercises. It had only taken months to install and the ten years of waiting and hoping was finally over. What a great relief for the Fire Service personnel to know that water at a fire within the town would no longer be a problem.
22.04.74 Purchased the first 2 B.A sets. Extracts from C.F.O. annual report. Five fire calls in the last 12 months only one involving property.
Since the brigades formation 54 actual fires, an average 4.5 per year and when one delves into the figures there have been 12 fires in buildings within our township which contains approximately 110 residential, 20 commercial, including schools, halls and churches, estimated monetary loss, less than three thousand dollars.
February - March 1975
U.F.B.A. Conference and Competitions in Christchurch, attended by Fireman Gordon Parkes, Sub Officer Brian Dobson and C.F.O. Tom Dobson. First mention of the Regionalisation and Nationalisation of the N.Z. Fire Service in an address by the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Hon. Henry May.
. Investigating ways and means to enlarge the fire station in the form of a social room.
06.11.75 C.F.O Fred Villis donated a cup for attendance.
01.04.76 A most historical day in the annuals of the N.Z. Fire Service, for on this day the 277 Fire Boards and Fire Committees controlling the Fire Districts within our country ceased to exist. These districts have now been placed into 22 Fire Areas, which in turn make up the 6 regions known now as the N.Z. Fire Service by the permanent three man Fire Commission, who have the same powers as were exercised by the Fire Authorities.
04.04.76 Plans to increase the size of the fire station were submitted to the Fire Commission for approval, but unfortunately owing to the economic situation within our country all building programs have been shelved for the next 12 months.
If this years estimates of $6,500 are approved, the standard of our equipment will be greatly improved for in the past our purchasing power has been limited owing to the small amount of finance available. The estimate included a request for a $600 grant for our Social Club.
14.04.76 News of our social grant being cut prompted the Chief to write to the Regional Commander W. (Bill) Clarkson. Extracts from this letter: Our request of $600 for the Social Club grant has been cut back to $200. And after hearing the sum approved for other brigades within this area, I not only felt disappointed, but properly baffled and after very little thought I feel fully justified in appealing to you to reconsider this decision. What have we done, why should our brigade receive so little, others much more. Is there not a system for those who decide what each brigade should receive? Admittedly our social grant will be doubled, but a mere $200 to a brigade that is probably one of the few within the region that has been handed over to the New Zealand Fire Commission free of debt.
As we have no social room it has been necessary when holding our only function of the year, to hire a small hall 4 miles out of the town and pay for a temporary phone installation. I cannot agree that it is good policy to beg and scrounge money from people who support and assist our brigade, then charge them to be our guests. It is not possible for us to return the hospitality extended to our members by other brigades, act as hosts to our supporting citizens, buy milk, tea, sugar and biscuits for parade nights with $200 per year.
When one compares the amount of money received for Social Club grants for brigades in this area on the basis of membership, total received and the amount per member, I am certain that you sir would consider I am not fulfilling my duties if I did not complain.
Brigades Social Grant No. of members Amount per member
Kawerau $1,900.00 64 $29.68
Whakatane $2,000.00 35 $57.14
Opotiki $2,000.00 17 $117.64
Taneatua $600.00 18 $33.33
Edgecumbe $1,000.00 21 $47.61
Matata $200.00 14 $14.28

19.07.76 Notification received from the New Zealand Fire Commission stating that all 3rd Officers in Volunteer Brigades will be appointed by The Commission - not elected each year by the brigade members.

02.10.76 Cabaret held at the Awakaponga Hall. The Fred Villis Trophy presented for the first time for the best attendance over the previous 12 months. Won by Sub/Officer Brian Dobson.

January 1977 Our brigade was most grateful for the donation received from Opotiki and Whakatane, both brigades gave $100 to supplement our social account. Incidentally they were always invited to our yearly socials in the future.

21.03.77 Informed by the Fire Commission that our Social Grant would be increased to $600 per year.
It must be mentioned that The Regional Commander W. (Bill) Clarkson based in Hamilton, was the first Commander appointed to our region when the restructuring of the New Zealand Fire Service came into being in 1976. Each region is allocated a fixed amount of revenue to finance all the brigades’ requirements within the areas of that region; therefore it was the Commanders responsibility to keep within that budget. Our brigade was the first in this area to feel the axe when our requested social fund was chopped.
Bill Clarkson wasn’t the most popular name to be mentioned by any of our members, until after he visited Matata. Firstly he phoned our Area Commander Barry Shields, stationed at Kawerau wanting to know “who the hell is this Tom Dobson?” and he (Barry Shields) was to arrange a meeting with Tom Dobson at his station in Matata. Both Barry and Tom agreed, at least there has been some reaction - “but what?”
A few days later, while waiting at the station for this meeting, Tom was very apprehensive; surely there cannot be another Whakatane County Clerk type within the Fire Service holding the purse strings. That wasn’t to be, for the Commander had sussed out our brigade by visiting the other five brigades in our area prior to arriving in Matata. He had been informed of our history and was full of praise for what we had achieved. While admitting he had boobed when swinging the axe, promising our social fund would be increased to $600 for the next financial year. Bill (he insisted that was what he wished to be called) also agreed that our station should be enlarged, as social activities were an important part of the fire service structure, especially among Volunteer Brigades. But it would be a year or two before the Fire Commission could finance the project. It was a much happier Tom Dobson that wished Bill a safe journey home, it all sounded pretty good, we will just have to wait and see.
As the next few years passed by it became more and more apparent that Bill Clarkson could have a soft spot for the Matata Brigade. As he was always willing to assist us with equipment and fire station improvements and other brigades started asking, “How the hell can your brigade get this and that?’ especially after the additions to the station and up grading of the back yard were commenced. Even we began to wonder, why?

Later, while attending a C.F.O.’s meeting in Tokoroa and mingling with others present, the answer was solved. Commander Bill Clarkson was using Matata Brigade as a sort of “Roll Model” by stating what they have done for themselves. And if your brigade is prepared to do the same (with volunteer labour and donations) we the Fire Commission may be able to supply the finance to meet some of the cost, if not all, for the materials etc. This will allow me to keep within the region’s budget and your brigade will have what it needs.

This didn’t please a lot of brigades, but we were happy, as we had never known any other way. And now to have for the first time a governing body really interested in our small part of the Fire Service and to be free of the continual scrounging for finance was a wonderful feeling. We didn’t mind being used as a “Role Model” for under our old Local Body Control we were regarded by many as “Bloody Fools”, now with a hell of a lot more respect.
A very shrewd man our Commander, but not a bad bloke - Thank you Bill.
06.06.77 At last we have radio communication with Fire Control in Kawerau, with a set fitted in our appliance but there would always be problems owing to the many blank spots in our district.
29.07.77 This was a sad day for our brigade and community, our D.C.F.O. W.J. (Bill) Paterson passed away. Bill was a foundation member. Served our Fire Service extremely well for over 14 years, a most popular and well-respected citizen. He was a great loss to our members, especially as the C.F.O.'s right hand man and companion.
22.09.77 The Fire Commission approved our plans of the additions to our station. Submitted on the 04.04.76. They showed a new appliance bay, watch room, office and store room, also alterations to the existing bay and store room, changing them to a social room and the meeting room to a kitchen and ladies toilet. That was good news but there would be no finance available for two years.
Appointment of Officers by the Fire Commission:
3rd Officer Clem Elliott to D.C.F.O.

Sub Officer Brian Dobson to 3rd Officer

Fireman Gordon Parkes elected to Sub/Officer by Brigade Members.
It wasn’t a happy start for Gordon in the Officers ranks, for on 14.11.77 a fire call to Manawahe, appliance and crew dispatched, Gordon followed in his car towing the trailer with the pump. One kilometre out the trailer lost a wheel. ‘Luckily it wasn’t required’.
11.11.78 At a cabaret held in the new Matata Rugby Football Club C.F.O. Tom Dobson was presented with his Gold Star by a past President of the U.F.B.A. Emrys (Em) Evans of Hamilton. C.F.O. George Chan of Raetihi representing the Auckland Gold Star Association presented the Gold Star Pin.

The Matata Volunteer Fire Brigade’s Life Honorary Members Medal presented by D.C.F.O. Clem Elliott.

16.12.78 A special evening function was held to present Mrs Bunny Paterson with her late husband’s Life Honorary Members Medal.
21.05.79 We received 8 fire calls for the year ending 31.12.78 and since there has been 10.
20.06.79 The Queens Long Service and Good Conduct Medal were presented to C.F.O. Tom Dobson, Mrs Bunny Paterson received her late husband’s in Kawerau.
18.09.79 The brigade was informed that the N.Z. Fire Service Commission had granted a sum of $30,000.00 towards the new additions and alterations to our station building, which was estimated to cost at least $43,000.00. The oldest serving members were delighted, for the first time we were to receive financial support from our governing body for a building project and to top it off didn’t have to pay the Local Council a building permit, as the construction was to be done under Ministry of Works supervision. To complete the task it meant voluntary labour and continued fund raising by our Ladies Committee to supplement the cost of materials and employment of trade people not within our ranks. (We were never able to recruit an electrician). A considerable cost saving on some materials was to be made by having access to the government stores up to 50% on some items.
19.10.79 A recent new resident, a teacher at Edgecumbe College Ken Stenton wished to join our brigade and now that we were under the control of the N.Z. Fire Commission it was necessary for all new recruits to pass a medical examination and eye test. Ken’s medical A.I. but failed the eye test, so therefore was turned down by the Commission. Once again our Chief did not agree with the Controlling Authority and promptly wrote to the regional Commander Bill Clarkson stating “I can not believe that any person as young, keen, physically and medically fit will not be accepted into the Volunteer Fire Service just because his vision is not first class. In a fire situation it doesn’t matter a damn how good your eyesight is, you can’t see bugger all most of the time. Ken plays rugby at first-five and doesn’t drop the ball, has a passenger service license to drive the school bus to Edgecumbe each day and I am quite sure he would be of great value to our brigade. Finally I wish to point out that if all our existing fire personnel were eye tested very few would pass”.

The reply from Bill. “I agree with you Tom that the Fire Commission has gone overboard with eye sight requirements even for permanent staff and I am sorry I can only abide by their decision”.

Ken was very disappointed, Tom bloody annoyed. Incidentally Ken spent more time working on our building project than a lot of the serving members. Later on he and his family moved to Edgecumbe and the idiots in the Fire Commission lowered the eyesight requirements and Ken was accepted as a member of the Edgecumbe Brigade.
27.10.79 On this night our cabaret held at the Rugby Club rooms was disrupted by a fire call to a house fire on State Highway No.2, two and a half miles towards Whakatane, just as supper was about to be served. Fire appliance dispatched with standby crew, D.C.F.O. C. Elliott, Sub/Off’s G.Parkes and P. Falwasser, Fireman H. Wi and D. Elliott followed by C.F.O. Tom Dobson towing the trailer pump with his station wagon accompanied by Fireman F. Body, G. Harris and J. Gribben. The “Ladies Pump” again proving it’s worth by relaying from open water to the appliance, which was within one hundred and fifty metres of the water source. Fire extinguished within 20 minutes, 75 % damage.

The Edgecumbe Brigade had also been called out and arrived when the fire was well under control and they insisted we return to our function as they would remain to “dampen down and make up” our water-way equipment. This offer was thankfully accepted. Our arrival back at the Club Rooms caused more than a little amusement and ribbing, the party mood had reached its peak - our Area Commander Barry Shields had discarded his tunic and necktie as had most of the other fire personnel. Most of us had not thought to remove our ties and some clown remarked “The gentlemen firemen fighting fires with ties on”. We had some catching up to do, the refreshments were still flowing freely and the ladies had saved our supper. The real gentlemen that night were the Edgecumbe Fire Crew.

17.03.80 D.C.F.O. Clem Elliott felt obliged to resign, owing to work commitments and would return as a member when he had more time available.
21.03.80 B.B.Q. evening to “wet the roof” of the station’s new additions.
21.04.80 17th A.G.M. Those present:

C.F.O. T. Dobson Secretary 3rd Officer B. Dobson Sub/Officer P. Falwasser

Sub/Officer G. Parkes Fireman G. Harris Fireman H. Wi

Fireman J. Gribben Fireman F. Body Fireman P. Haimona

Fireman J. Drinkwater

Leave Fireman R. Hill Absent Fireman R. Hunia

The vacant position of D.C.F.O. was dealt with by popular vote to recommend that 3rd Officer B. Dobson be appointed to Deputy and Sub/Officer G. Parkes to 3rd Officer. The Fire Commission approved this. Fireman Gordon Harris filled the vacant Sub/Officer position. He was also elected to Secretary, as the new D.C.F.O. could not see himself doing justice to both positions. Brian had been Secretary for 12 years and most of the data that has been compiled until now has been extracted from the brigades minutes and roll books he had recorded.

06.12.80 A social evening was held in the fire station as we had to forego our usual cabaret this year as the brigades finances were being channelled into the new additions.

C.F.O. Fred Villis presented the honours.

Firemen Fred Body, Harold Wi, John Gribben and Robert Gage received their 3 year certificates.

Sub/Officer Peter Falwasser 2 year silver bar 11 years

3rd Officer Gordon Parkes 2 year silver bar 13 years

Sub/Officer Gordon Harris 2 year silver bar 23 years

C.F.O. Tom Dobson 2 year gold bar 27 years

This was a most enjoyable evening as the additions and alterations were almost complete, just the finishing touches to purchase and fit. Once again the Ladies Committee were to the fore, as they had raised $1,517.50 towards these items. The C.F.O. addressed the gathering thanking the ladies and also those who had spent many hours working on the project.
13.04.81 Pool table purchased from the Edgecumbe Cosmopolitan Club for $200.00
17.10.81 Official opening of the Fire Station additions and alterations - at 14:00 hrs the premises were opened to the public.

Distinguished guests:

Mrs Shirley Mossman - representing the Whakatane District Council

Mr Jimmy Marks - chairman, Matata Community Council

Rev. Bill McEwan and Father Horrigan - dedication

Regional Commander Bill Clarkson - official opening

As Bill Clarkson could not stay for the evening celebrations D.C.F.O. Brian Dobson presented him with one very large crayfish (Bills favourite food) and thanked him for his assistance with the building project, for without his support we would not have this Fire Station today which we are all very proud of.

At the evening function - Ex. C.F.O. Fred Villis presented honours.

Fireman Phillip Haimona 3 year certificate

Fireman Bob Hill 2 year silver bar 7 years

D.C.F.O. Brian Dobson 2 years silver bar 15 years
14.12.81 Matata’s telephone system switched to automatic, all 111 calls requiring fire service response were received in the Kawerau Watch room, then transferred to ours by means of the “G” system.
29.03.82 Fireman John Gribben resigned from our brigade and transferred to Ohope. John was a very good fireman, our loss Ohope’s gain. One recalls an incident that happened just after his transfer, for at this period of time all our equipment, uniforms, protective clothing and footwear were supplied by our Area Command, Kawerau Fire Service. John joined us (05.12.77) there were problems as he was such a big man to “kit out” and had to put up with clothing that was more than a little tight and also his feet covered a sizable area of the terrafirma and had to wait 10 months for his boots. Therefore when John was accepted by the Ohope Brigade and farewell by Matata he was packed off with all his kit “boots and all”.

This act upset the Deputy Commander at Kawerau who was in charge of stores in our area, for when he was asked, “why wasn’t Gribbens gear returned?” and quoted the regulations, “when a person is no longer a member of a brigade all personal gear must be returned to the store”. Our chief replied “as John was accepted straight into the Ohope Brigade which is within the same area, I told him to take his gear with him because it had taken such a damn long time before he received what he has now and if it goes back to the store he would be back to square one. I also told John to keep on your back until he received a Dress Uniform he would feel comfortable in”.

The Deputy Commander was shocked and upset that regulations had not been adhered to, as stated in The Fire Service Act. It was quite some time before he accepted that it was the sensible thing to have done.

As the years passed by John has become a worthy member of the Fire Service in Ohope, rising through the ranks to be appointed Chief Fire Officer.

19.04.82 All Fire Service Brigades throughout New Zealand have been granted a canteen license.
07.08.82 Our second Gold Star evening was held at the Rugby Club. Sub/Officer Secretary Gordon Harris was presented with his Gold Star by past president of the U.F.B.A D.C.F.O. Lloyd Dennis (Whakatane Board Mills) Gold Star pin by D.C.F.O. Murray McCrae (Edgecumbe) representing the Auckland Gold Star Association. Brigades Life Honorary Member Medal by C.F.O. Tom Dobson.

23.04.83 Commenced working bees to concrete and fence the backyard of the fire station. Special words of appreciation were conveyed to our next-door neighbours The Ministry of Works staff, they removed the soil (mostly sand) and constructed the rock retaining walls, free of cost.

16.05.83 Extracts from the C.F.O. Report - at the 20th A.G.M “Our social facilities are not being used as often as I had hoped, I suggest that a social committee could be formed of at least 3 members of the brigade, plus members of the ladies committee. Also give some thought to forming a Brigade Social Club with the possibility of including a limited number of the community as members, such as friends and relatives. It is pleasing to note that some of the ladies have commenced a games afternoon here in this room once a fortnight and all residences are welcome”.
18.07.83 As previously mentioned radio contact could not be established in most parts of our district, the Chief started demanding a better deal and made the comment that we could possibly save some ones life by having quick communications for assistance. We have only one set, which is in the appliance and what we want is a base set in our watchroom and some means of establishing improved contact between the appliance and station. A survey has been made using borrowed sets and found that in 60% of our district no radio communications was possible on channel six (which is the channel used by brigades in the Kawarau Area) but when switching to channel one we found improved reception from many dead spots and could make contact with the Tauranga Fire Service.
20.08.83 The response was almost immediate - a radio callout system was installed which gave us a base set, fixed on channel 6 as it now activated our siren. To digress a little - the Chief had managed to obtain a door-lock, which could be activated by an electric impulse or in the usual manner with a key. He fitted it to the small front door and then it was wired up so that when the siren switched in the lock was released. Brigade members were delighted, no more would one be first to respond to a call and be frustrated because they didn’t have their key with them. At a later date owing to several break-ins we found it necessary to have a burglar alarm installed and had it connected to the siren (amazingly no more burglaries).
22.09.83 Portable radio received and by using it at the station on channel one were able to communicate more often with our Fire Crew if they were in many of the dead spots and relay any data on our base set to “Fire Command” at Kawerau. The problem is the “Repeater” is stationed on Mt. Edgecumbe and if it is well out of “Line of Vision” from your position it cannot receive you and most of the time you will not receive from the repeater. Why the hell those in charge of communication would not permit one to be placed on Whale Island we will never know.

19.11.83 The Queens Honours Evening - The Ladies Committee insisted by holding it in the station and serving a three course dinner, they could save us heaps of dollars, many brigade members were doubtful and with more than a little apprehension agreed. It was a huge success catered for over seventy people at a cost of only $183.07.

The Menu:

Mussel Chowder or Tomato Soup

Chicken, Ham, Pork, Crayfish, Curry and Rice

Potatoes, Salads (lettuce, beetroot, asparagus) savoury eggs

Steam Pudding and Brandy Sauce


Fruit Salad


Tea or Coffee

There was plenty left over for those that cleaned up the following morning.

The refreshments including an assortment of wine on the tables $312.11. This confirmed to us that if a person is fed well they will drink less once again we had to bow to the ladies as their financial forecast was spot on, well over $500.00 saved.

The Official Guest - Our newly appointed Area Commander Ted Stewart addressed the gathering congratulating the brigade and their ladies and stated “my wife and I have attended may Fire Service functions throughout the country and none has surpassed the one we are attending tonight”. (The ladies were delighted)

Commander Stewart representing the Fire Commission presented the Queens Long Service and Good Conduct Medals to D.C.F.O. Brian Dobson, 3rd Officer Gordon Parkes and Sub/Officer Gordon Harris.
29.04.84 Ex. D.C.F.O. Clem Elliott rejoined. Clem was welcomed back with much enthusiasm.
17.11.84 On this evening an excellent dinner was again prepared to honour a very special lady. Mrs Nada Lees was bestowed as our brigade’s first lady Life Honorary Member (the U.F.B.A. told us Nada was the first female to receive one). It was a wonderful occasion as Nada and her husband Morris (Mo) did not have a clue of what was about to unfold.

C.F.O. Tom Dobson while addressing the guests led up to the event by stating “we have a resident with us tonight who has been accepted by our brigade as a L.H.M. That person has supported our Fire Service since it was first mentioned in 1956” (he managed a few more phrases before continuing). “And has most ably as President guided the Ladies Committee for over 20 years”. The acclamation that came forth told it all. When things quietened down the L.H.M. medal, which is fixed to a clasp was presented to Nada and attached to her gown by Tom’s wife Alice. There was no doubt it was the most memorable occasion for the women folk during the history of the Ladies Committee.

The evening was spoilt a little for two of our members, Gordon Parkes (Bar Manager) and Tom Dobson for they were the two of only three fire personnel that knew at this time of a happening that was to be revealed 2 days later.
19.11.84 Meeting Night - Extracts from the Chief’s statement - “some one has been entering the station to take money from the till and beer from our stock. Since it was first noticed by our Bar Manager, a religious check has been maintained and the police informed”. The problem ended there, but the two of us had our suspicions.
21.01.85 Mrs Nada Lees donated a cup to the brigade, to be used as we wished.
15.04.85 Suggested use for the Nada Lees Trophy, to be a two-man event.
10.05.85 Our brigade first fatal fire, causing the death of Tom Marr (Ex 3rd Officer Dick Marr’s brother). The dwelling was well alight when the alarm was raised and 90% of our fire personnel were present. As everyone knew Tom it was a damn hard first time experience for most of the members.
17.06.85 Station Officer Peter Falwasser wished to stand-down from his position, owing to his work commitments. Fireman Clem Elliott was appointed to take his place.
13.12.85 Children’s Christmas party held at the Fire Station, this afternoon was a huge success.
14.02.86 Fire at the hotel - this no doubt the brigades greatest save, we were fortunate to catch it early. The cause was to remain a mystery.
21.07.86 Most of the hard work on our backyard project has been completed, just the fence and gates to erect.
01.11.86 Honours Night - programme the same as the previous three years, a dinner catered by the Ladies Committee, the presentations followed by dancing to “Johnies Band”.

The honours by Ex C.F.O. Fred Villis

Fireman Harold Wi 2 year silver bar 9 years

Sub/Officer Clem Elliott 2 year silver bar 13 years

Fireman Peter Falwasser 2 year silver bar 17 years

3rd Officer Gordon Parkes 2 year silver bar 19 years

Sub/Officer Gordon Harris 2 year gold bar 29 years

C.F.O. Tom Dobson 2 year gold bar 33 years

Another unique occasion - Fred Villis himself was honoured, with Life Honour Membership of our brigade. The C.F.O. outlined from a long list why this was done (following are a few of those reasons). Fred has been presenting the Service Honours to our members every year except two, since 1966 tonight was the 18th and it must be the same number of times he has made sure we have always had mussels included in the menu for dinner or supper at these functions.

It all started way back when fire protection in some form was first mentioned in Matata. Fred was our most valued supporter at that time and the close relationship with our brigade has continued, even after his retirement from Edgecumbe and now resides in Ohope.

Finally - quoted - “Fred, I am very privileged to be in the position to reverse the roll you have been doing for over 18 years and place you as the recipient. Thank you again. Our Life Honorary Members Medal”.
21.12.86 While responding to a call, a hay barn fire 27 kms out in Braemar Road our appliance when passing an on coming vehicle, the offside edge of the road gave way causing the fire truck to roll down the bank, fortunately no one was seriously injured. The crew on board - Sub/Officer Clem Elliott, Firemen Phillip Haimona, John Mihinui, Mike Falwasser and Harold Wi (driving). Phillip and Harold suffered the most bruising. The appliance was a write off. D.C.F.O. Brian Dobson was quickly on the scene as he was following in his vehicle, followed by the Edgecumbe appliance they were also called out and dealt with the fire.

This was quite an ordeal for Brian, being the senior officer at Matata (as his chief was on holiday) having to explain how in the hell does one’s brigade write off a fire truck. When the chief returned all the paper work and explaining had been completed. Well-done Brian. Incidentally this day the 21st December was also his birthday.

02.03.87 Early in the afternoon about 13:12 hrs a severe earthquake really shook things about in the Eastern Bay, causing major damage in our neighbouring township of Edgecumbe (Matata although badly shaken only suffered minor problems). The devastation to many of the buildings, railway, roadways, water and sewage mains had to be seen to be believed. There were no major casualties and no fires, possible because the weather was warm (no solid fuel fires burning). And fortunately there was a small quake a minute or two prior to the big one, which cut off all electric power within the area and most workers in industrial building and shopping malls were still in a safe position, when all hell broke loose.

Our brigade responded to the station and reported in by radio to Area Control that we were safe and well and were touring our township and immediate area. Twenty minutes later no casualties, no power and no visible damage, except one chimney top shaken off and state highway No. 2 towards Te Puke (Pikowai Straight) blocked mainly by trees shaken loose off the pumice cliffs down onto the highway in many places.

Our automatic telephone exchange housed in Matata, not effected locally and also we could call outside our zone but could not contact Edgecumbe or Kawerau.

The water reticulation was undamaged and was transported to Edgecumbe by tankers for many weeks.

We were without power for 4 days and other means of creating heat for cooking were brought out of storage. The Ladies were quickly involved within an hour of the quake. They were producing cups of tea/coffee and sandwiches for everyone including the stranded motorists who were informed by our members on traffic control that the Fire Station was an “open house” to use the telephone and toilets. How many visited the station we will never know, one of our Ladies remarked that she had washed and wiped well over one hundred cups. The highway was re-opened at 5:15 p.m. For the next two or three weeks the brigade received many letters and cards of thanks, even some donations.
14.10.87 The backyard fencing and gates have been completed.
14.11.87 Honours were again presented by L.H.M. Ex. C.F.O. Fred Villis after dinner, held at the Rugby Club.
The recipients:
Fireman John Drinkwater 2 year silver bar 7 years

Fireman Phillip Haimona 2 year silver bar 9 years

Ex. Fireman Fred Body 2 year silver bar 9 years

Fireman Robert Gage 2 year silver bar 9 years

D.C.F.O. Brian Dobson 2 year silver bar 21 years
15.02.88 The proposed date for the 25th Anniversary celebrations, 22nd October 1988 (Labour Weekend).

Notification from the Fire Commission - the terminology of “fireman” would no longer be used, replaced by “fire fighter” (F/F) as many womenfolk were joining brigades especially volunteers.

18.04.88 25th Annual General Meeting. Those present:

C.F.O. Tom Dobson D.C.F.O. Brian Dobson 3rd Officer Gordon Parkes

Sec. Sub/Officer Gordon Harris Sub/Officer Clem Elliott

Senior F/F Phillip Haimona Senior F/F John Drinkwater F/F Peter Falwasser

F/F Harold Wi F/F Robert Gage F/F Gavin Dennis

F/F Ian Bragg F/F John Hanover

Secretary Sub/Officer Gordon Harris wished to stand down as Secretary. F/F John Hanover elected to this position.

Extracts from the Chief’s Report.

“I would not be honest if I were to use the common opening phase of - it is with pleasure I present this report, sadness would be a more apt term, as this will be my last opportunity to have this honour. But the pleasure of serving as an active member of the Volunteer Fire Service will always remain with me. When I look back to first joining in 1941 and being actively involved for 35 years, it is time I stood down; my last day will be on the 22nd of October this year. By that time I sincerely hope I can leave knowing you have a far more efficient and tidy looking fire truck to work with than the one we have now. Finally I thank you all for your service to our brigade and the good fellowship I have experienced among you members”.

Call outs for last year 16, three property, five-non property, two spillages, four vehicle accidents, one standby and one false. This year already 13, two properties, nine non-properties, one assistance and one standby.

Station Officer Gordon Harris informed the brigade that he would join the chief in retirement on the 22nd October. It was approved that a letter be written to the U.F.B.A. requesting the supply of three Ladies Life Honorary Members Badges for Miss Pinky Burt, Mrs Bunny Paterson and Mrs Alice Dobson, the three only original members serving on the Ladies Committee.

The brigade members were asked to help with obtaining addresses of ex members to invite them to our Jubilee function. C.F.O. mentioned that he would be stepping aside as much as possible to allow Brian a feel of the reins and to decide if he would like to fill the C.F.O.’s position.

15.08.88 It was agreed unanimously that the Fire Commission be informed that our brigade members recommended that on the retirement of C.F.O. Tom Dobson and Sub/Officer Gordon Harris, the present officers step up in rank. Approved by the Commission 06.09.88.
06.10.88 Informed by regional Commander George Roberts that he would be unable to attend the Jubilee.
17.10.88 When final arrangements made for the Anniversary, farewell and honours celebrations, Sub/Officer Clem Elliott suggested that Fred Villis be asked to present the L.H.M’s badges to the ladies - approved.
22.10.88 The day dawned bright and sunny, to the delight of everyone, especially those involved with the final preparations, which were completed by mid-day.

At 13:45 hrs the 25th celebrations and farewells commenced at the station and it was open to the public. Unfortunately no details were recorded, the following has been sussed out by memory and photos.

The ex. Fire Personnel that attended.

Past Area Commanders; Barry Shields and Ted Stewart

Ex. Brigade members; Allen Longstaff, Allan Dobson, Bob Gardiner, Tony Semmens, Pat Ratahi, Raymond Hunia, John Cork, John Gribben and Ken Stenton (a special guest)

Official Guests;

Representing the Fire Commission - Area Commander, Bill Gunn

The Whakatane District Council, Mayor Bob Burns

The Matata Community Council, Chairman Jimmy Marks

Master of Ceremonies - incoming C.F.O. Brian Dobson

All previously mentioned dignitaries addressed the gathering, praising the Matata Fire Service on their achievements of building their station and their service rendered to the community.

Gordon and Tom were thanked for their service freely given and wished a long and happy retirement, both received gifts of appreciation from the Whakatane District Council and Matata Community Council.

The wives of Gordon and Tom - Betty and Alice were presented with bouquets and thanked for supporting their husbands during all those years of service.

The star event of the afternoon had to be that performed by Deputy Brian Dobson

when he outlined some of the incidents that occurred during the 25 years as he unrolled a very large scroll, printed out and drawn with sketches in the form of “this is your life”. It was well presented to the delight of everyone present. The formalities completed afternoon tea was served and the bar opened, time to relax and reminisce with friends and relations.

At 17:30 hrs the afternoon festivities concluded. In the evening they continued on in the Rugby Club at 19:30 hrs, entertained by “Johnies Dance Band” and formal ceremonies were dealt with early to allow all those involved to unbend and enjoy themselves.

The retiring officers, Gordon and Tom were presented with U.F.B.A. Blazes by the new C.F.O.

Service honours presented by L.H.M. Fred Villis

F/F Harold Wi 2 year silver bar 11 years

Sub/Officer Clem Elliott 2 year silver bar 15 years

F/F Peter Falwasser 2 year silver bar 19 years

3rd Officer Gordon Parkes 2 year silver bar 21 years

Sub/Officer Gordon Harris 2 year gold bar 31 years

C.F.O.Tom Dobson 2 year gold bar 35 years

Fred followed on with the main feature of the evening, by saying he to was honoured to be asked to bestow three ladies as Life Honorary Members of the Matata Brigade.

Miss Pink Burt, Mrs Bunny Paterson and Mrs Alice Dobson each in turn received a L.H.M. Badge.

The women folk were delighted and more than a little emotional, so too was Tom, who with a lump in his throat and hint of a tear or two in his eyes congratulated the trio (another unique occurrence in the historical records of the United Fire Brigades Association).

It was a fitting conclusion of the evening’s formalities, all those present moved into top gear the dance floor was crowded, refreshments consumed and supper served.

By 0200 hrs the clubrooms were deserted and those still willing and able to stand partied on in the Fire Station.

The end of the first era 1956 - 1988 in the history of the Matata Fire Service and it had taken most of those years before one realised that the brigade was firmly established as an essential party of the community.

The end also for Gordon and Tom - no more will they be rushing off in response to the siren (it will take time not to) wondering what to expect, will there be enough for a crew, and hoping like hell no person is involved.

For Tom it will take quite a while to adjust after being involved for so long as ‘The Chief’, but he is happy with the thought that the brigade he is so proud of will remain in good hands and of course there will always be those many fond memories.
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