Bowing out of 37 years with Queenstown Fire Brigade, volunteer Lyall McGregor puts good times ahead of bad.
McGregor: “I’ve loved every minute of it. It becomes part of your life.”
The senior firefighter called it quits with brigade bosses last night after continuous service since 1975 – bar one year working out of town.
Highlighting the camaraderie and social activity, McGregor says: “If someone who joins has a quarter the fun I’ve had, they’ll achieve something.
“You never do anything on your own – if you’re going into a fire, you’ve always got someone with you. It takes two people to man a hose.”
In the 1970s McGregor was singer-guitarist in a top Queenstown band Cord 3 – and the annual Fire Brigade Ball was the town’s top gig.
Brigade volunteers looked like a friendly bunch so musician McGregor joined up – and stayed on. As well as battling blazes, McGregor’s been the social director running Christmas parties and annual dinners – and since the 1980s, ‘The Singing Fireman’ on the brigade’s Winter Festival floats.
“Each float I’ve done has had a fire safety theme,” McGregor says – he picks a popular tune and tweaks the words.
The brigade’s changed since he joined, McGregor acknowledges – for example, it was run by the council then.
“You didn’t have the sophisticated equipment we have on firetrucks now – everything was quite basic. New recruits have police checks and a lot of different things [and] a week away of intensive live-in training,” McGregor says.
The brigade has just three paid staff and 30 volunteers, and McGregor says there’s now a higher volunteer turnover – so how long can the organisation remain volunteer-based?
McGregor: “Over the years there’s been a lot of talk – especially from other brigades – of Queenstown [having only paid firefighters]. But it’s never really looked financially viable.”
Though stressing the highlights of his sterling 37 years, McGregor nevertheless recounts a particular fire imprinted in his memory.
“It wasn’t a big fire, it was a small kitchen fire,” McGregor says of the 1981 call-out to a Stanley Street house.
Its sole occupant was Joy Scheib, whose husband Jo was goldmining in Skippers – McGregor knew them well.
“She was dead in the bed in front me,” McGregor says quietly, adding: “she died from smoke inhalation.”
It was the first fire death he’d experienced.
A life member of the brigade, McGregor says he’s not leaving totally.
“I’m giving up operational duties but I still want to keep a little finger in the pie and help out wherever I can.”
McGregor says he’ll happily tend to fire station gardens.