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An earlier Star deliverer.

March 12, 2020 March 2020 No Comments

The second chapter of Martinborough’s Lloyd Johns’ life as a fire fighter. –continued.

Back at Lower Hutt late I wrote my report and prepared, as promised to develop and conduct Officer Command training for the NZFS. The Service was preparing for nationalisation and in 1972 I received a call from the Chairman of the Fire Services Council that the training school in Island Bay was to become the NZ Fire Service College and a new posting – National Director of Training was to be announced the following week, I was ‘advised’ to apply for the position.

My rank was Chief Fire Officer (the youngest in the NZFS) I soon set about getting the show on the road; when I took over 80% of training courses were being cancelled through lack of applicants, and when I left 4 years later there was an average 45 nominations for each 9 residential places available.

I left the College in 1976 because I wanted an operational command role, but the Commissioners were very satisfied with the work of the College and would not release me. So I accepted a role based in Melbourne, resigned and moved to Australia. The Melbourne age had displayed an advertisement for a Deputy Director of South Australia’s Country Fire Services, the idea of getting back into the fire service made my adrenalin flow, I  became the CFS’s Deputy Director.

A week after my appointment, my new boss came into and said “Well Lloyd, I’ve been waiting for someone like you – our fire ground covers 886,000 sq km, you have 20,000 volunteers and a support staff of 42, around 1000 fire trucks and 480 volunteer brigades – you need to get out there ASAP and meet and greet”. I replied – “Sir,  I have only just arrived – what is the hurry?”  “Oh, you haven’t been told – I retire next month and the job is yours if you want it!” – and so began the battle to equip and train a neglected volunteer  fire force with successive governments resisting change right up until the day I left the state 6 years later.

I ordered an audit of our fleet – 960 fire trucks of which at least 450 were defectable, remote fire sheds neglected and run down and totally inadequate training or Standards of Fire Cover.

The first Ash Wednesday fire was brought under control fairly quickly but Ash Wednesday II was a totally different story. I lost three of my volunteers and a civilian helping a crew, 22 civilians died,, 500 houses, 400 motor vehicles, 100,000 head of sheep, 20,000 head of cattle and thousands of hectares of pine forest across 8 separate fires – all in 12 hours! The fires burned for more than a month but nothing like the intensity of the current, devastating fires occurring here as I write.

I came about 10 seconds from being killed when the Bell 215 helicopter I was flying from a fire ground dropped 1000 feet and turned upside down, first one way then the other before flying straight and true out of the turbulence only a couple of hundred feet above the ground. The experience was enough for me and in 1985 I left the fire service. 

Back to Melbourne as an Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner 16 years working Fly-in/Fly Out in WA, Northern Territory, Far North Queensland in the resources boom on a number of multi-billion dollar projects and enjoying the experience of a most satisfying remainder of my working life.


Photo caption: Lloyd as Director of the South Australia Country Fire Service

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