Moree's Brian Heffernan is currently enjoying a well-deserved retirement free of fires, after spending more than 52 years on call as a retained firefighter.
The 75-year-old was given a fitting send-off earlier this month, with about 60 Fire and Rescue NSW colleagues, including the Tamworth zone and duty commanders, former workmates and family joining him to celebrate his retirement at Moree Services Club on Saturday, November 9.
Mr Heffernan joined the NSW Fire Brigade, now Fire and Rescue NSW, on November 19, 1966 and in March this year he officially hung up his helmet for the final time, after serving for 52 and a half years.
This achievement makes him Moree's longest-serving firefighter to date.
Originally joining the Moree fire brigade as a community service, Mr Heffernan ended up enjoying it so much that he stayed on as a retained firefighter for more than 52 years, only retiring due to age and injury. In September 2016 Mr Heffernan celebrated 50 years with the service.
"I'm getting too old and knocked up," he said.
"I hurt both my shoulders in a fire over Easter 2017 ... I've had one shoulder operation and have got to see a specialist about the other one.
"I'm 75 now, so it's just going to do more harm. I can't be there forever. Although I do miss it. I liked it."
The friendships with his fellow firies is what Mr Heffernan enjoyed most about the job.
"It's one of those things that I liked doing," he said.
With Moree one of the busiest fire stations in NSW, averaging up to about 800 fires over the past few years, the job certainly kept Mr Heffernan busy over the years.
In fact, over his 52 and a half years as a firefighter, there have been nearly 18,000 fires in Moree and Brian would have only missed about 1000, according to James Pritchard who has kept a meticulous record of fires in Moree.
As a retained firefighter, Mr Heffernan was on call 24/7 and was often woken at night or interrupted during meal times to attend a fire.
"It's nice now to get into bed and go to sleep and not get interrupted," he laughed.
"The amount of times I'd sit down to have a meal and I'd get a call and have to go. I wouldn't get back home for at least two hours. And in the middle of the night you'd be called to little fires and then you'd be hyped up when you got home. You'd just try to get back to sleep and then it goes again.
"You can't fully relax. You couldn't just go and have a beer either, you've got to be under .02."
Although many of the fires in Moree are small grass and bin fires, or burnt-out cars and empty houses, Mr Heffernan said there have been some big ones over the years, such as the fire which totally destroyed Hong Yuen's Department Store in 1978, the oil seed crushing factory fire in 1979, the fire at the Lands building in 1980 and more recently the two Cascades fires.
He said he wouldn't be able to count the number of fatalities he's seen.
"I've been to a lot of fatals over the years," he said.
One of the first was less than a year into his career when two children died in a house fire in Boston Street in 1967. Another one that stands out was a motor vehicle accident involving five semi-trailers in 1993 which killed two drivers, injured one and destroyed three trucks. Mr Heffernan also vividly remembers the 2011 plane crash near Moree Airport in which four people died and two were seriously injured.
"It's very tough," he said.
"It's not good what you see."
When he wasn't fighting fires Mr Heffernan worked in the automotive industry, first at Roy Kemp's Auto and later Fred Monckton's Bearing Centre for 30 years.
Mr Heffernan fondly remembers the days when he first joined the fire brigade and would be called to a fire while working at Roy Kemp's in Balo Street. The Moree captain worked as a mechanic "a few doors away" and another firefighter also worked in the main street and the three of them would run to the fire station together when they heard the siren.
"In those days, the only way you knew what was going on was when the siren was on," he said.
"When the siren went off, we'd leave work and run up to the fire station."
When he wasn't at work, Mr Heffernan was alerted to a fire by bells that were set up in his house. The bells would be rung by the captain's wife, who manned the phone 24/7. This was before calls for fires were taken through a command centre - back then they went to a direct Moree number.
"It was very hard on the captain's wife," he said.
"She had to stay home and be near the phone. If she wanted to go out, she had to get someone else to do it ... Someone had to be by the phone 24/7.
"She took the calls and would press a button and the bells would go off.
"Later they brought out pagers and it's improved since then."
Mr Heffernan said there have been plenty of other changes over the years, from the trucks and equipment to safety and even the materials in houses, which are more synthetic now.
"Everything's changed," he said.
"OHS is one of the biggest changes - it was never thought of when I first joined. There's more training now. We just joined and that was it.
"We never had breathing apparatus in those days. The old saying 'get down low and go, go, go' applied - we used to crawl into houses to avoid the smoke. These days we can walk in upright.
"Years ago I'd drive into a fire by myself ... you'd know there were other blokes coming ... but these days you have to have so many in the truck before you can go."
At his farewell earlier this month, Mr Heffernan was presented with a frame of all his firefighting gear.