Satisfaction in helping still there

Russell Partel still enjoys driving this water tanker after 45 years of being part of the Portobello Volunteer Fire Brigade. Photo by Samantha McPherson
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 in need.

''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 Partel said.

''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 firefighting.

''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 service.

''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 

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