It’s a long way from Otekaieke to central London, but the journey was well worth it for Brian Davey.
The Doctors Creek Rd resident was officially installed as the International President of the Institution of Fire Engineers at the Guildhall in July.
His investiture included a presentation by the Manaia Roopu group from the New Zealand embassy in London, and culminated in his being draped in a korowai (cloak) commissioned by the institution’s New Zealand branch.
Mr Davey is only the second New Zealander to hold the honour, which comes with sterling silver chains of office.
While he was sitting beneath the Guildhall’s ancient vaulted ceiling, his wife, Nina Densley, was tending their flock of about 100 Wiltshire horn sheep on 16ha between Duntroon and Kurow. The couple retired to Otekaieke five years ago, to realise Ms Densley’s dream of becoming a farmer after years devoted to Mr Davey’s career.
That began in his home town of Hastings as a volunteer firefighter.
He heard about the institution, which was established in 1918 to improve the understanding of fires. Having sat his first set of exams in the late 1960s, he became a paid firefighter in 1972 and continued to take exams sent out from Britain.
Mr Davey spent 42 years as a professional member of the New Zealand Fire Service in Palmerston North, Taupo, then Timaru, where he was the fire chief, and on to Nelson as area commander for Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast.
A post at national headquarters in Wellington from 1997 to 2011 put his knowledge of fire into practice. As national manager of operational standards, he developed policies and processes for firefighters.
Retirement to North Otago was interrupted by a nine-month posting to Dunedin as East Otago area commander in 2012. He has since become a volunteer again, in the Duntroon brigade.
Another role since retirement was three months in London as an expert witness at a coroner’s inquiry into five deaths in a 14-storey Brixton housing block. Mr Davey was sourced through being a director of the Institution of Fire Engineers and asked to advise on the actions of the London Fire Brigade. The lawyers told him he did “an excellent job”.
The coroner has since visited the Otekaieke farm, where he could hardly believe the size of the leg of lamb he was served.
Mr Davey has belonged to the institution since 1969, serving as president of its New Zealand branch, three years as the New Zealand representative to the International General Assembly and seven years as an elected board member.
He was deeply moved by the ceremony at the Guildhall – part of the institution’s annual conference.
The korowai, named Nga Matemate O Mahuika, was made from feathers from the kahu (New Zealand hawk), its colours symbolising fire.
The top and bottom of the cloak have darker feathers representing smoke, and the woven band at the top denotes learning of fire.
For the past 10 years Mr Davey has travelled to institution business in London three times a year.
His next trip is to Malaysia.
Each year’s incoming president chooses the conference venue and subject.
He chose “Fire engineering contributions to world cities”. In the past 30 to 40 years, fire engineers had worked with architects to design buildings with reduced fire risks, Mr Davey said.