Millers Flat and Ettrick fire brigade to celebrate 50 years.

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The Millers Flat and Ettrick Volunteer Fire Brigade is celebrating its 50th anniversary at Labour Weekend.

Chief fire officer Brian Timpson said they were expecting about 100 present and former members, and supporters, to attend the celebrations on October 21 and 22.

“On Saturday afternoon, we are having the registration and a meet-and-greet at the fire station,” he said.

“We are also holding a parade with the fire trucks, going around the block [in Millers Flat] and ending up in the park.”

He said the park was the site of one of the first large fires the brigade attended after forming in 1967, when Doc’s pub, owned by Len Docherty, burnt down in 1969.

There will be a dinner at the Millers Flat Hall that evening with speeches and several two-year-bars will be awarded.

The brigade’s four chief fire officers are going to be there: Rod Peirce, of Roxburgh, retired (1967 to 1979); Mervyn Alexander, Millers Flat, now operational support officer (1979 to 1987); Wes Reichel, Millers Flat, now operational support officer, rural fire officer, (1997 to 2008) and present chief fire officer Brian Timpson.

In addition Steve Jones, representing the Central Otago area of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, and Raymond Gunn, of the Teviot Community Board, will be guests. Another founding member, Bob Davidson, will also be there.

There will be a barbecue at the fire station for employers and invited guests on Sunday.

The brigade was established on July 17, 1967, after a major house fire in the valley earlier that year.

Mr Reichel said a public meeting was held to determine interest in forming a brigade and it was established with 23 volunteers.

It has been involved in fighting several large fires during its history, as well as evacuating residents from Millers Flat township when the Clutha River flooded in 1999.

The brigade attended a big blaze on Reids Hill, Fruitlands, in February 1999.

As other brigades were busy fighting a fire at Springvale at the same time, Millers Flat and Roxburgh brigades had to deal with it themselves.

“It was a stinking hot day and very dry, windy conditions,” Mr Timpson said.

“It was lucky it rained that night, otherwise it would have been far worse.”

Mr Reichel said he remembered seeing a huge fireball, fuelled by the tinder dry conditions and oil from the thyme, blown across the river at Lake Roxburgh and ignite the scrub on the Knobbies.

They were still dampening the site on the Knobby Range the next day, and there was snow on the ground.

The brigade also attended a diesel tanker and trailer fire on State Highway 8 at Beaumont in 1987.

The driver escaped but his unit was destroyed.

Other memorable fires included the old Millers Flat railway station in 1987 and Con van der Voort’s Ettrick packhouse in 2001.

Following a major road accident in 1983, the brigade bought cutting gear.

“Prior to that we had no specialist equipment and in those days each brigade had to buy its own,” Mr Timpson said.

The Roxburgh and Districts Lions helped raise the money.

The brigade took over the role of Rural Fire as well in 1990 and the station was upgraded in 2016.

Mr Timpson said the brigade also provided co-responder cover.

“We provide St John with extra manpower as there is a lot of work involved with CPR and that allows St John officers to focus on more advanced patient care.”

One of the brigade’s constant issues is the need to attract new volunteers.

“We are always looking for new members,” Mr Reichel said.

“Some of us are getting long in the tooth, but we have got the odd few young ones.”

He said every brigade had problems attracting new members, especially younger ones, as people had busy lives.

In addition, there were fewer young people in the area.