COOLER PASTURES: Timaru firemen Gordon Ireland, left, and Bob Stevens are moving on from the Fire Service after a combined 84 years' service.

More than 40 years of smoke, ash and water coated the career of Bob Stevens and Gordon Ireland. Now life will be a little quieter.

From the days of cork helmets, no gloves and woollen coats, the pair have seen an evolution in the tools they use and the environment they work in.

Though Mr Stevens finished his career without much ado, Mr Ireland’s last full shift on Green Watch saw an unusual 13 callouts.

Vegetation fires, transformer fires, a car crashing onto a transformer and fires at Timaru Girls’ High School – “I just about had the whole range of things in two or three days, so people want to see me gone”.

In January Gordon Ireland will officially clock out, just a day or two after the 41st anniversary of his arrival, on January 20, 1970.

“I’ve had only one job really. The job’s been good to me and taught me a lot of skills.”

But it is a team effort at the end of the day, he said.”It’s a group of people that come together, do a job, get on with it and then do other things.”

To the stereotypical question of one highlight or lowlight out of four decades, he replied: Seeing results rather than a pile of ash.

“There’s been a lot of them, each bit of time has got bits that stick out and they drift away and something else happens.

“If you save a place or take actions that stop things escalating further, that’s the real gain.”

While he will retire from brigade life, Mr Ireland will not be gone from the fire scene and he will be using his experience to train others in fire safety.

For Mr Stevens, life will begin focusing away from fires after his retirement last month, ending a 43-year career.

Mr Stevens began as an auxiliary fireman on January 20, 1967, and joined permanently in 1971.

“I think a lot of the reasons the guys like working here is the comradeship and the teamwork, which in a lot of other jobs you wouldn’t get,” he said.

He was talked into the job by a firefighter.

While firefighting had its downsides, Mr Stevens said any regrets were fleeting. “It’s a family, really.”

The modern uniforms may not be as comfortable as the old woollen ones, but they were safer, he said. Now there were also gloves and boots that didn’t have brass screws digging into your feet, he added.

During his early years, “whoever was the top of the pecking order got the new stuff,” Mr Stevens said.

His first night on duty saw one of the largest fires in Timaru’s history. It involved several shops, an upstairs night club and part of a theatre complex in Timaru’s main street. But the one he remembered was the fatal Seaview Hotel fire in 1993.

Two people died when the hotel caught fire during the night. “It was a very, very hot fire and we were really struggling with that one.”

In lieu of responding to fires, Mr Stevens can now devote time to his other interests, like restoring, showing and rallying his Zephyr cars.