Russell Partel still enjoys driving this water tanker after 45 years of being part of the Portobello Volunteer Fire Brigade. Photo by Samantha McPherson
If the water tanker needs operating, ''Rusty'' Partel's the
man for the job.
Russell Partel, who has been part of the Portobello Volunteer
Fire Brigade for 45 years, still receives a great deal of
''satisfaction'' knowing he is helping people when they are
''I don't do any frontline work but I am a driver and a pump
operator. I just do the day shift. I really enjoy it. It's
the camaraderie. All the people that you are helping. That is
the satisfaction, to know that you can actually help somebody
in need,'' Mr Partel said.
''My dad had a boat building business behind the hall, about
five minutes from the station. I got invited to join the
brigade and I've been here ever since.''
The semi-retired 75-year-old, who was a senior firefighter, a
pump operator and worked in operations support, said there
had been various changes in the last 45 years.
''The gear is one of the biggest changes. Originally we had a
plastic jacket, leather boots, leggings, a belt with two
hooks and we carried axes. Axes were made out of brass so
they were really heavy. The gear that's used today is much
lighter and more modern. They are better equipped than what
we were, that's for sure,'' he said of today's volunteers.
Over the years the engines had become easier to drive.
''They've gone from being a stiff-arm job driving the old
engines to the new one driving like a car. The difference it
made driving both was something out of this world. You used
to have to put the pump into gear, go through a sequence and
reverse it to take it out. Now you just a press a button. If
you didn't do it right you had to start the sequence all over
again,'' he said.
Finding water in the early years also proved difficult, Mr
''One year I was sitting on a log in the harbour with a hose,
pumping water out for the guys to use. I was out there on my
own so that was a bit different.''
The type of work had changed, too.
''We are doing more first-response work compared to
firefighting. It's both fire and rescue work, not just fires.
We never used to do it. But it's the medical calls that keep
our numbers up. They are more universal. They cover car
accidents, medicals, search and rescue as well as
''The biggest thing is that if there is anything serious
going on, we can have about five people here ready to respond
within five to 10 minutes.''
Mr Partel hasn't decided whether he will see out 50 years of
''It's got to come to an end sometime. They keep telling me I
have to stay until I have done 50 years. But I'll be 80 by
the time that comes around. We will see,'' he said.
- by Samantha McPherson