More than four decades of serving community draws to a close

04 April 2022 | News

Lincoln soil science tutor Roger McLenaghen has fitted in being on call as a volunteer fire fighter with teaching since 1978, sometimes resulting in a tight squeeze.

“Rather than being just a single house fire, two other houses were also just starting to catch alight and therefore it ended up being a longer duration than I had allowed for.

“I was running close to the wind arriving back to the university just in time to start a lab. I might have been five minutes late.

“On another occasion a call-out for a large vegetation fire at 6pm stretched to 8am the next morning. I had just enough time for a quick shower before my 8.30am diploma lecture,” Roger said.

Now, after 43 years and 10 months of juggling his commitments, he is hanging up his helmet.

In that time at the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Brigade he has been Secretary, Station Officer, Senior Station Officer and for the last 21 years, Deputy Chief.

He started work at the then Lincoln College in 1974, and four years later was asked by a work colleague if he would be interested in joining the volunteer brigade.

At the time I thought it would be a new experience and as a Lincoln local an opportunity to give back to the community.

"As I both live and work in Lincoln, I’m available 24/7 except when I have other commitments. This means on average I have responded to about 80 per cent of the calls that the Lincoln Fire Brigade attends."

He makes himself unavailable for calls one hour before any lecture or lab, or meeting. After that he can tune back in to listening for the sound of a siren echoing around Lincoln, urging him into action.

He would catch up on work later.

“I am fortunate that the university is supportive and allows volunteers to respond to emergencies,” he said.

Lincoln University was recognised by the Fire Service in 2020 with a Proud Employer Mark, demonstrating its support for Fire and Emergency volunteers and their communities. Roger estimated he had worked with 11 staff members and 16 students as volunteers.

There were calls over the decades which stood out in his memory.

“Lincoln has only ever had two house fires involving having to rescue people. In the second house fire I found a person just alive and managed to rescue him and take him outside for medical help."

Another was a serious motor vehicle accident where a car with four people inside exploded into flames after the crash. 

“I had to help treat one of the young women in the car who was severely burnt.”

Responding to the 2010 earthquake, he was first at the station.

“I responded on the fire truck, initially to the Lincoln Maternity Hospital and then to the Halls of Residence on the campus to check on the structure and the wellbeing of the people.

“After the February 2011 earthquake, I responded with a crew to Christchurch Hospital to find all the backup power generators not operating and the hospital in complete darkness.

“We organised a diesel mechanic to fix the generators. After the initial day of checking buildings, we were rostered into the city for the next four days to respond to any fires with either a fire truck or water tanker.  After this initial period we were then mobilised to do welfare checks in the suburbs. 

“For many people, we were the first contact they had since the quake.”

He has a 25-year Gold Star medal and bars for service, as well as Good Conduct and Service, International Volunteer and Life Honorary medals.

“Involvement with Fire and Emergency is very much a unique experience that most people would never get to have. 

“With this comes good times, and also bad times that you try to forget. The knowledge that you have helped people and perhaps saved a life is the reason you volunteer.

“But being part of the Fire Brigade also gives you the comradeship and lifetime friendship.”

Lincoln Chief Fire Officer Jeremy Greenwood said in a social media post that Roger epitomised “the best of what being a volunteer is about, doing what’s right and supporting the community".

“Roger’s retirement will leave a massive void within the brigade,” he said.