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The Fire Sirens of Piha

Posted by SCe Comments Off on The Fire Sirens of Piha

Under the witty caption “The fire sirens of Piha beach”, journalist Mark Scott (himself a local with a bach in Rayner Road) profiled Piha’s female fire crew in about the late 1970s (my cutting has lost its date).

Jane Caley in the photo below identifies the women as from left: Probably Sue Robertson or Robson; Naomi Smythe (she and her partner ran the quarry on Piha Road – not far past Karekare turnoff going into town – left side of road. They both worked the big machines.); Heather Grant (she could also drive the fire truck and had a bus licence); Jane Caley; Jessie Atkinson (from the Piha Store).

In the article Scott explained that they were not wearing uniform because at that time women could not officially join the fire brigade.

The article describes how at a recent fire south of Piha (The Gap?) Heather wrestled the 4-ton water tank down a steep clay road to get to the fire, the fire was contained and then it ook the men three hours to winch the truck back up.

Scott also describes joining the fire truck while it rattled over metal roads one night on its way to a fire away from Piha, where on arrival it was found to be a run-away campfire and other trucks were there.

Scott explains that the Piha Brigade was formed 3 years previously and was for 2 years run and financed by Waitemata Countu Council. “In this time the women had full recognition,” he writes.

“However, the national amalgamation of the fire service into one body whose policy despite powerful lobbying is rigidly opposed to women fire-fighters, has changed that.”

It was obvious at Tuesday’s Tasman Lookout fire, how fully women are integrated into the fire service now, but when Caley and Co were protecting Piha, that battle had yet to be won. The first professional woman firefighter was Anne Barry who won a Human Rights Commission case to gain the right to train as a firefighter, despite the fact that women had womanned volunteer fire crews in rural areas since the 1960s.

fire sirens piha 1984 -, Naomi Smythe, Heather Grant, Jane Caley, Jessie Atkinson



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