Fenz Gold Star for 25 years’ service

Quarter century . . . Waiwera South Deputy Chief Fire Officer Darrell Wendelgelst looks back on 25 years’ service to the brigade. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

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Waiwera South Volunteer Fire Brigade Deputy Chief Fire Officer Darrell Wendelgelst was decorated with a Gold Star for 25 years’ service to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) at a special ceremony in Clinton on Saturday, July 30.

The local dairy farmer has been involved in fire safety and emergency response in his community since moving from Kaitangata in 1996.

‘‘My neighbour John Whiteside suggested joining the local volunteers when I first moved here and it turned out to be a good way to meet new people and get involved, offering some service to the community,’’ DCFO Wendelgelst said.

His district station, Waiwera South 511, had 11 volunteers, two of whom were new recruits, and received 15›20 callouts per year, he said.

‘‘We mostly attend motor accidents and vegetation fires. You don’t look forward to the callouts but there is an element of adrenaline when you get the call, and it is rewarding to know your presence and your training is making a big difference in helping someone in trouble.’’

Fenz had transformed over the past quarter of a century and the changes he had noticed most were the result of cellphones and individual firefighters’ equipment, while perhaps his most memorable experiences were controlled burns for training and research, he said.

‘‘Four or five times we’ve been with Fenz experts to burn a building that’s been slated for demolition. We’ve been inside in level two standard kit, flash hoods and breathing apparatus, working in pairs with hoses and practising searches.’’

Mr Whiteside, who is brigade chief fire officer and a volunteer of 44 years, said his deputy had put his heart and soul into serving Waiwera South.

‘‘Darrell’s a very level›headed and conscientious member who makes a big contribution to the brigade, especially as a training officer. He’s also president of Clinton Lions Club. There were about 60 people at his award ceremony, including the mayor and Fenz officials, to present him with other honours in addition to his Gold Star,’’ CFO Whiteside said.

DCFO Wendelgelst said his team was a ‘‘great bunch who get on well together’’.

He was very grateful for the support of his wife and family, and philosophical about fire safety advice.

‘‘We had a callout a while ago when hot ash from a burn of forest slash caused a hedge fire four or five days after the bonfire was out. That was just an unexpected change in the weather. Bad luck can happen even when you take all the precautions, so that’s why we’re here.’’