Home > News > Archive > 25th October 2007

Robbie’s fought our fires for over half a century

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Robbie Morriss
ROBBIE MORRISS (right) receives congratulations from United Fire Brigades Association representative Brian Hyland after presentation of his 50 year medal (red ribbon). 298071AD

By Grant Johnston

When we hear the fire siren sound, we feel a sense of alarm but at the same time relief that dedicated volunteer firefighters are on their way to tackle whatever situation requires their attendance. For the firefighters themselves, the emotions evoked are a call to duty and a calm sense of urgency.

Robbie Morriss has been responding to these calls in Te Awamutu and Pirongia areas for over 50 years and on Saturday night at a function at Pirongia Rugby Sports Club he was honoured for his service.

Brian Hyland, representing the United Fire Brigades Association presented the 50 Year Medal to Mr Morriss to rapturous applause from a large crowd. He said Mr Morriss became only the 57th New Zealander to be awarded the 50 Year Medal. He noted the presence of Mr Morriss’ wife Margaret and two adult daughters (Christine and Susan) along with a number of grandchildren and extended family members.

Dame Margaret Bazley, chairperson of the Fire Service Commission, said on many occasions Mr Morriss would have had to put family needs aside to meet his fire fighting obligations, which included not only fire callouts but also many training nights and weekends away at competitions and courses. Dame Margaret expressed the Fire Service Commission’s appreciation to Mr Morriss and his family for his huge commitment of voluntary service. She said it was an opportunity to say thank you to a long serving volunteer firefighter, but more importantly a community celebration for 50 years’ of outstanding service. She said she believed it was the first time someone attached to a Rural Fire Force had received the 50 Year Medal.

Team Effort
TEAM EFFORT: Robbie and Margaret Morriss were greeted by a guard of honour made up of fi refi ghters at Saturday night’s medal function. At left of picture is Te Awamutu Chief Fire Offi cer, Ian Campbell and fourth from right, Barry Kimber who received his 50 year medal recently. 298071BD

Mr Morriss has actually served over 52 years with Te Awamutu Volunteer Fire Brigade and Pirongia Voluntary Rural Fire Force, but for his first two years at Pirongia, United Fire Brigades Association rules did not include provision for membership of Rural Fire Forces.

He joined Te Awamutu Brigade on January 27, 1955 and served continuously with that brigade until April 1, 1996. He was awarded his Gold Star for 25 years’ service in 1980 and was president of the United Fire Brigades Association in 1986/87. In 1990 he was appointed Chief Fire Officer of the brigade and served in that position until his retirement from Te Awamutu six years later. He was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal in 1995.

Pirongia Voluntary Rural Fire Force was established in 1993 and the following year a request was made to Mr Morriss for Te Awamutu to assist with training and direction - it was a pleasant surprise to the Fire Force when he responded in person. For the next 18 months he not only carried out his extensive duties as CFO at Te Awamutu, with attendance at their training nights and frequent emergency calls, but also attended and assisted with training at Pirongia.

When he retired from Te Awamutu Fire Brigade in 1996 he formally joined Pirongia as training officer. In 1993 he was appointed Fire Controller, a role he continues in today.

Alan Dalton, speaking on behalf of the Fire Force, said the Pirongia volunteers would not be where they are today if it had not been for Mr Morris’ mentoring and assistance.

"You have guided and motivated all of us and it has been a privilege to work alongside such a dedicated and qualified firefighter - a man we can all look up to and for inspiration.”

Taranaki-King Country MP Shane Ardern said firefighters’ wives, like MPs’ wives, knew what it was like to have‘cold feet’ climbing into bed next to them late at night. He paid tribute to Dame Margaret, for her efforts in turning around a “disparate (Fire Service) organisation”.

Mr Ardern said as a rural man he was well aware of the important role rural firefighters played in their communities.

“Rural communities always rely on voluntary services and organisations and that is something a lot of our urban counterparts take for granted.”

He said Mr Morriss’ record of service was remarkable and that it was tremendous that he was passing on his knowledge to those following in his footsteps.

Mayor Alan Livingston expressed appreciation on behalf of Waipa District as well as the local communities. Mr Livingston said Mr Morriss had stepped in to help the fledgling Fire Force and he acknowledged the work Pirongia volunteers do for their growing community.

Former Te Awamutu Chief Fire Officer, Don Hallett said he could not let the occasion pass without talking about Mr Morriss’ contribution to Fire Service competitions.

“Robbie was the standpipe man for Te Awamutu when we won three New Zealand Championships and a lot of sub association championships.”

Mr Morriss’ daughter Christine said it was ‘awesome’ that everyone had turned out to honour ‘a great man’. She said that she and her sister Susan had enjoyed a fantastic childhood, travelling with their parents to Te Awamutu Brigade training and competitions and getting to know some wonderful people. She said her father now regarded Pirongia Fire Force as his second family and he was loving working with the Fire Force and its cadets. She called on those present who had been involved in competitions with her father to raise a toast to ‘water on’.

Mr Morris was obviously humbled by the presentation and the sentiments expressed by speakers. He said he had enjoyed the camaraderie that was shared by firefighters and he looked forward to more developments for Pirongia Fire Force.

Regional Fire Manager for Bay of Plenty/Waikato, Owen Kinsella had earlier said that he knew it was Mr Morriss’ aim to see Pirongia Fire Force established as a Fire Service brigade and the way the Fire Force was being talked about throughout the region, there was every possibility that could happen.