Duntroon fire chief moves on

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A long association between the Eckhardt family and the Duntroon Volunteer Fire Brigade has come to an end.

After 30 years service to the brigade, and 53 years living in Duntroon, David Eckhardt has moved to Oamaru.

On Monday, Mr Eckhardt started his new job as a mechanic at Lance Doran Automotives.

“I’d been living in Duntroon all my life, 53 years, and needed a change,” Mr Eckhardt said.

Mr Eckhardt’s family moved to Duntroon in 1955, from Otematata.

His father, Jack, was one of the founding members of the Duntroon fire brigade in 1964 and Mr Eckhardt followed in his footsteps, joining the brigade when he was 16.

His brother Peter, daughter Brooke and step-daughter Aletta Cowan have also volunteered for the brigade in the past.

Mr Eckhardt became chief fire officer in 2011.

“It was a challenge. At the time there was no-one else to step up, so I thought I’d have a go – and I got the job,” he said.

And he is pleased he did.

“I’ve enjoyed it, really enjoyed it,” he said.

“That was one of the reasons I was reluctant to leave Duntroon.”

Late last year, the future of the Duntroon brigade was uncertain because of a lack of new recruits.

A public meeting was held to address those concerns and about 12 people expressed an interest in joining, which had alleviated some of the pressure it faced – and Mr Eckhardt was now optimistic about its future.

“Out of those 12, there are going to be 10 joining up,” Mr Eckhardt said.

It was the camaraderie and family feel of the brigade he liked the best.

“It’s a lot of fun, I know that’s probably a stupid thing to say, but it is. It’s an experience, and it is enjoyable – you do have fun, as well as the serious times,” he said.

Living in a tight-knit community like Duntroon meant the chances were high of knowing someone involved in, or affected by, emergencies the brigade attended.

“It is hard. You’ve got to keep in the back of your mind that you are possibly going to know the person,” he said.

It was especially difficult when he had been called to medical emergencies and fires involving his own firefighters.

Mr Eckhardt said he was lucky to have had good support from his family, especially when he had to drop everything to go to a call.

“You’re on call 24/7 basically . you start having a barbecue or you start mowing the lawns and the siren goes off and away you go,” he said.

In his professional life, Mr Eckhardt started his apprenticeship as a mechanic at the Duntroon Garage at age 16.

“I spent nine years at the Duntroon Garage, and then went away truck driving and various other jobs, and then went back about seven years ago to reopen the Duntroon Garage for Andrew [Pickles],” Mr Eckhardt said.

“It had been closed since Andrew broke his neck, so I approached him and reopened the garage and that was that.”

“[Andrew] was really good, he’d let me go to call outs as well – and I really appreciated that.

“That was without loss of pay, which is brilliant. Not a lot of places would do that.”

For now, Mr Eckhardt will continue training new volunteers at the Duntroon station on Monday nights.

“I’m also the caretaker at Duntroon School, as well, so I’ll still be out at the weekends doing that, just to help them out there,” he said.

He has been asked to join the Weston Volunteer Fire Brigade, but is yet to make any concrete plans.

“I don’t want to get out of it completely, but I haven’t made any decisions yet,” he said.

There was a lot to miss about Duntroon.

“The people, the community – and obviously the fire service,” he said.

“But they say change is as good as a holiday and I think it’s time for that.

“But as I say to them in Duntroon, they can’t get rid of me that easy – I’ve still got a few jobs to be doing out there.”