by Helen Martin
While he grew up in Warkworth and first worked in Wellsford, Ian Osborne moved here in 1977 with his wife Sherryl and their three children to manage the Helensville electrical shop. In 1993 he began working from home, eventually finding himself Helensville’s sole electrical appliance repairman. It’s a busy life, juggling keeping the town’s appliances in running order with spending time with the family but, as everyone living here is aware, Ian also has huge calls on his time and energy as Helensville’s Chief Fire Officer.
When he first joined the Wellsford volunteer fire brigade in 1971 there were around 20 calls a year. Now, the Helensville fire service receives around 250 calls a year, turning out to calls up as far as West Coast Road, across to Waitoki Township, south as far as Woodhill and up South Head when the Shelley Beach rural fire service volunteers need a hand.
As Chief Fire Officer Ian is in charge of a budget funded by house and car insurance levies, and of making sure the quota of 26 volunteers is fully trained, including once-a-week training at the Rata Street station and courses through the year. The station has to be fully equipped and the two engines and the gear, like the Jaws of Life, have to be maintained to the highest safety standards. And then there are those call-outs. “We’re slightly out of the national average in that the bulk of our work is responding to fires,” Ian explains. Asked what advice he has about fire prevention Ian’s reply is unequivocal. “You need working smoke alarms and an exit plan, especially if the building has two storeys. The next highest reason for call-outs is motor vehicle incidents and now the volunteer fire service has a memorandum of understanding with St Johns we go to all serious ambulance calls along with them.”
The job demands enormous patience. “Vector can’t cope when there are lines and trees falling in adverse weather conditions so we go and stand by, sometimes for five hours, until they get there,” Ian says. “This morning I was tipped out of bed at 2.30am in the rain to have a look at an alarm activating at the Telecom satellite repeater station. That’s not unusual.”
Dealing with people in often dire circumstances means it’s not a job for the faint hearted “Only about 5% of cardiac arrest people come through. We go to a few near-drownings. Our best value and skills are in rescuing people in car accidents, where our goal is to disassemble a car in 20 minutes, get the person out, stabilise them and get them to hospital in that golden hour.”
Volunteer fire fighters are rewarded with medals, the nature of which is determined by years of service, by the community’s appreciation of their efforts and by the camaraderie of the team. But the most important payoff, Ian says, is knowing you’re skilled and competent enough to help people. Having been a volunteer for 45 years he says he will retire one day. But not yet.