Bob’s flaming 50

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Fire chief honoured this Saturday night for half-century of service

For someone who insists he was never all that keen on becoming a firefighter, Bob Robertson has just clocked up an amazing 50 years with Queenstown’s volunteer brigade.

To celebrate half a century of dedication, the 69-year-old grandfather of four will be presented with a double gold star from fire brigade top brass at the annual service awards in the Memorial Hall on Saturday night.

Next month he also travels to Government House in Wellington to receive a Queen’s Service Medal.

But Roberston – Queenstown’s chief fire officer since 1986 – reveals that, ironically, he accidentally put a recent letter of congratulation from Prime Minister John Key up in smoke.

“I couldn’t believe it when I realised I’d thrown it in the fire along with a whole lot of papers I was clearing out,” he groans.

“It was only a letter from the PM and somehow I managed to burn it.”

Since joining the local brigade in August 1959, Robertson has rushed from his work or bed at all times of the day and night to attend “many thousands” of incidents in the Wakatipu.

“The fire service has been my life,” he says. “But I was never really that interested in it at first.

“I was talked into it by a guy called Tom Luckie who I was working for at a grocery store
in town.

“Tom guided me all the way through and he went on to become the fire chief himself. I took on the post when he resigned.”

Robertson also pays tribute to his wife of 45 years, Fae, who has “put up with a lot”.

“Fae is used to being woken up in the wee small hours with my pager going off but fortunately she’s got used to it.
“Sometimes I can be called out in the middle of the night and be back before she’s woken up, so she has no idea I’ve even been away.

“I also have to say that there have been times when I’ve felt like giving it up but it’s been Fae who’salways talked me into keeping on doing it.”

A born and bred Queenstowner, Robertson became a builder before working as a maintenance man at Queenstown Airport for a decade, where he still mows the runway fringes during summer months.

His family has a long and distinguished history in the resort – in 1866 his great-grandfather JW Robertson became Queenstown’s first mayor and his dad Robbie was a former town clerk.

His uncle Jack Robertson was the first captain of Lake Wakatipu’s 97-year-old steamer TSS Earnslaw.
“I think I can just about call myself a local,” he jokes.

When Robertson started out as a firefighter, there was no such thing as breathing apparatus and helmets were made of cork and jackets out of wool.

“Our equipment might be a lot more sophisticated these days but a fire is still a fire.”

Outside the brigade, Robertson was involved in rugby and was also a keen rower, becoming a member of a team that won the New Zealand lightweight fours at a national competition.

But even though he turns 70 this year, he has no intentions of hanging up his fire hose just yet.

“I’m usually on the second truck these days but I’m still there,” he says. “It is and always has been a pleasure to be part of the great team at the Queenstown station.

“I’m not going to put my hand up and say I’m finishing. I think I’ll hang around for a while yet.”