Twenty five years as a volunteer firefighter have given Cambridge brigade member Bruce Willis a lot of interesting stories to tell.
“I still get the feeling that you’re making a bit of a difference, and I still enjoy the comradery of the brigade, that’s probably the best thing about it,” said Bruce, whose 25-year milestone as a volunteer firefighter was celebrated on March 22.
“And I guess it’s the feeling that you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself, you’re making a difference, and you’re helping someone out.”
As a member of the Cambridge Volunteer Fire Brigade since he moved here in 2002, Bruce has seen a lot of change and growth in the town. They now average over a hundred more call outs each year than they used to – up from 206 in 2002 to 345 in 2018.
“Everyday something goes on,” he said. “Some days you’ll get nothing, and others it goes off four times.”
He’s seen just about everything, but only recently had his “classic” fire fighting experience this year – rescuing a cat out of a tree.
“I just stuck him in my bunker coat and zipped it up, he popped his head out the top, and down we went,” he explained. “We tend to get more call outs these days that some people perhaps would have done themselves back in the day.
“It has certainly changed. The boss says sometimes we’re like ‘hire a hubby’!” he laughed.
Bruce started out joining his hometown fire force in Waihi in 1993, spending four years with the brigade there.
It was somewhat of a “deep end” situation, heading off on his first fire call to a petrol tanker on fire.
“That was pretty interesting, it was certainly a good introduction to the fire service,” Bruce said. “I’ve been to a few fairly significant call outs that’s for sure.”
Bruce moved to Rotorua in ’97, and after a six month hiatus from the job he joined the Ngongotaha fire brigade. Another five years later he moved to Cambridge in 2002, working with the Cambridge Volunteer Fire Brigade ever since.
He chuckles, recalling how some of the other Cambridge brigade members refer to him as a “social member” for “only” making about 60 per cent of all call outs, as some of the local firefighters somehow making 80 or 90 percent of the call outs.
“And I’ll say to ‘em, ‘hey, I’m here for the big ones!’ And it does turn out that way, the big ones I manage to get to. And there’s been some fairly significant ones. The ones that stand out are unfortunately either really big or really bad, but we’ve had the odd funny, hard-case sort of a call where we’ve used some unorthodox ways to get a result.
“Probably the thing that stands out to me the most over my time (as a firefighter) is the three brigades I’ve been involved with, that’s the best part, the three groups of likeminded people that I’ve been a part of.”
But on top of that, Bruce said he was most fortunate for his supportive family – a loving wife, Nikki, who helps get him out the door on a cold morning call out, and his two boys, Ben, 14, and Lochlan, 10, who are both keen to follow in their dad’s footsteps and join the fire force one day.
“They deal with that more than I do,” he said, referring to the responsibility of rushing out the door at a moment’s notice. “You do miss out on a few family dinners, there are a lot of times where I’ve just sat down to dinner and off it goes. It’s funny, it never rings at a good time, like in the middle of an argument!” he laughed.
Asked what advice he would give himself starting out in the force 25 years ago, he said, “stay as keen as you can, get involved in everything, and make sure you’ve got someone pushing you out the door on a cold and frosty morning when you don’t want to go.”