Veteran firefighter taking a step back

Portobello Volunteer Fire Brigade stalwart Russel Partel, is moving into a support role after 50...
Portobello Volunteer Fire Brigade stalwart Russel Partel, is moving into a support role after 50 years as a frontline fireman. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
At the age of "just coming up to 81" Russel Partel has made the hard call that he is no longer up to being a firefighter.

Not that the 50-year veteran of the Portobello Volunteer Fire Brigade is going to be lost to the service when he "retires" next month. He still plans on pottering around doing repairs and maintenance at the station.

"I'll be looking after the various bits and pieces that get broken," he said.

Mr Partel signed up for the volunteer brigade in 1968.

"My job was in Portobello so they asked, I said yes, and I've been here ever since."

As a volunteer fireman Mr Partel had to fill in in whatever role was needed, and has seen the nature of the job and the equipment needed to do it change markedly.

"It used to be that you were just a fire truck, now you're everything," he said.

"It's more of a medical job now, because Portobello runs a first response team and we get sent to a variety of things, but we haven't had a fire for a long time now."

When the alarm does go though, as it did yesterday, Mr Partel still races to the fire station to do whatever job is needed, including driving the fire engine.

Over his five decades, Mr Partel has seen many fires and car crashes, and helped fish a few wayward cars out of the harbour.

"I remember one fire in lower Portobello, the lining on the outside of the house was a cement-based thing and it was going off like fire crackers. You had to watch your back all the time because there were flying bits going everywhere.

"Originally, we didn't have breathing apparatus either; things got a lot safer after that came in."

Employment had changed in his time so few of his volunteer colleagues were able to record long-service records with single brigades, Mr Partel said.

"They all move around so much ... but I've made brilliant friendships through the brigade,

"There have been a great bunch of boys and girls down here ... and I don't have to miss them because I haven't actually left."

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