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103 Years of service

Fifty – years ago, Gary managing (known to everyone  as Spida, joined the Fire Brigade in Te Aroha. Three years later, his younger brother Peter Mangin, known to everyone as Grassy, also joined the Te Aroha Fire brigade.
 |  The Informer  | 

Now in November 2023, both men have served 103 years between them. Grassy has served 50 years this week and Spida, has served fifty -three years. However, in April, both men will receive their 50 years Fire Service Medal together. Spida just put his Fire Service Medal aside to wait for his brother. “This is so we can receive them together. It is worth waiting for. That’s the way it has always been for us. We are two brothers.”

Both Grassy and Spida are active members on the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade. “ I became part of the Whitianga Fire Brigade in 1977,” says Spida. “For quite some time before then, I was working in this region. I was part of a mobile electricity gang putting electrics into the Coromandel Peninsula, the far north and also the Waikato region. We were everywhere but I was also travelling back and forth to Te Aroha for every week-end. It was a long way, too much travelling, so finally I decided to put my roots down here.”  

Grassy’s story is similar but also different. He w also worked on a mobile electricity gang. “ he has done everything the same as me but only three years later,” smiles Spida.

However, Grassy stayed longer stayed longer in Te Aroha and was Deputy Fire Chief there formany years.  It is where he brought up his family.  In was in 2006 that he came to Whitianga and of course joined the Whiti Fire brigade as one of his first actions.

Spida served under Merv George’s leadership as Deputy Fire Chief for 26 years. “I mainly looked after the trucks and the troops,” says Spida. “That’s what Derek Collier does now with Roly Chaney as the Chief Fire officer. There is such a lot of organising to do and necessary for the Deputy to check on trucks and troops.”

“These days I am Operations Support”, continues Spida. “I have had a stroke recently, so the hard yakka puts me at risk and the team at risk. But rather than leave, I can be a support team and that means looking after a site or managing crowds at a fire or accident scene.  I can still be useful.”

Where it all began: For Spida he tells it like this. “We were born and bred in te Aroha. Everyone is your neghbour. Evryone knows you. There was this Hose Runing competition amongst the fore brigades in the district. A team member was going to be missing and they needed to make a full team.  But you couldn’t fill in unless you joined the Brigade so I did.” It was nothing to do with a noble cause like saving people’s lives.  I joined up to be in a competition.”

For Grassy,things were a little different. “My Mother suggested to me during my apprenticeship – “ Why don’t you join the Ambulance Service –  something for the community.” I responded to Mum, “I’d rather ride on a big red truck.” So Peter joined his brother in the Te Aroha Fire Brigade and it was a request to fill a team for a hose running competition that was the final spring her needed so at that point the stories are the same.  Both worked for the Thames valley Electric Power Board as electrical engineers and both spent every Tuesday night learning the ropes of being a fire fighter.

 There were many more fires, deaths and suicides we were called out to in Te Aroha then ever there has been In Whitianga. In Te Aroha, every house was older than the Whitianga houses.  The electrical wiring in these houses was shot. Also more heaters were used in winter with the lower  temperatures so fires were very common back then.”

“The equipment was so different in those early days,” says Grassy.  “You should have seen what we had. The hoses were canvas and we would hang them out to dry – so heavy! We had cork helmets. The fire truck was a 1946 open-air Ford and the back”Fup was a 1967 Bedford truck.

Some things we never forget.

“We lost three children in a car fire. That stays with you,” says Spida.

 “You don’t forget mistakes easily.

You never think about danger because you are just always looking after others’ problems. You don’t have time to think about being afraid. You just don’t think like that.

still learning in my electrical industry so it’s the same for the Fire brigade.

But there is another aspect you never forget and that is the camaraderie. We have good friends, friends for life. Not everyone can be your friend but here you make good friends, and you train together, work together. Every Wednesday we turn up no matter what – that is the training. There is a meeting once a month but the other Wednesday nights are for learning about new equipment. Training in new technology, working together as teams.

 When that alarm goes, you need to know exactly what to do and what your role is. Once you are in the truck everyone knows their position and what their job is and to whom they need to relate.”

 “We train enough so we won’t forget,” says Grassy.

Fire brigades run in the family.

 Ila Mangin, Spida and Grassy’s Mother is still alive and living independently in Te Aroha. Ila is 94  has been a strong and wonderful influence in their lives.  Grassy’s son, David Mangin is Deputy Fire Chief in Te  Aroha. His other son has been a fire fighter in te SAroha for 14 years. Does that not have a familiar ring?

 His daughter’s husband, James Stops  is a member of the Whitianga Fire Brigade. Does that not sound familiar?

 What we have loved

 The competitions are just great. We love them.  Whitianga has excelled in these. We won the Roadside Crash Rescue Team competition in 1999.  I was a part of that team until 2021,” says Spida.  

“We had to become very good at cutting cars.” We have met and competed with teams from Dargaville to Invercargill and we have mates in those teams. We won the Austral-Asian Championships in 2017 and that took us to Capetown, South Africa in 2018.

You work a lot to be very fit and  excellent at the skills but all the time you hope you don’t have to use it. The competitions sharpen all these skills and make for friendships.

Spida: “For me being in Operation Support is a change of vocation.  People have so many options these days but for me this is a great option.”

 Grassy: “The Fire brigade is a big commitment. As a volunteer, you are on duty 24/7. People should not be frightened of that. Don’t get stuck in a technological or digital rut.”

Finally:  “One good thing about my brother waiting for me for the presentation of our Fire Service medals next April is that the speeches will be shorter than normal,” says Grassy. ‘That’s because I have done everything the same as my brother except three years later. I am proud of that.  But this time we will be receiving an honour together and I am proud of that!” Smiles Grassy.