When Colin Thomas opened a letter saying he'd been awarded a Queen's Service Medal for dedicating much of his life to the Okaihau Fire Brigade, he wasn't sure whether to accept.
"But then I thought about all the hard times we went through ... I'm really accepting it for all the old fellows who put so much time and money into the brigade to make it a success," he said.
Now aged 71, Mr Thomas retired from the volunteer brigade last year after 44 years' service, 34 as chief fire officer.
He signed up when he found himself at a loose end after returning from service in Borneo and Malaya in 1963-65.
At the time the brigade had no money and no fire station, just an old V8 forestry appliance parked outside next to the Four Square.
Mr Thomas played an important part in getting the first station built, as well as fundraising for the brigade's new base on Lake Rd.
The present station opened in 1992 after firefighters worked every weekend for two years raising the $80,000 needed for the new building and rescue gear.
"We had to raise all the funds. It made us a close-knit family."
In fact it was a family - his children volunteered in the brigade, his sister Lynette Winwood was the first Northland woman to be awarded a gold star for 25 years' service, and brother-in-law Jack Winwood was his deputy for 34 years.
Mr Thomas' reasons for sticking with the brigade for so long are simple.
"It's the satisfaction of serving the community and working with such great people. They're a great bunch. It's been a privilege to work with them."
Mr Thomas also served as president of the Kaikohe and Districts RSA, Okaihau RSA and Okaihau Bowling Club. He competed in and judged the Northland Fire Brigade Sub-Association competitions for more than 10 years and promoted fire safety at schools.
He still lives in Okaihau, a town he only left when he was in the army, with his wife Lindy and two of their four children. He has worked as a butcher, baker, hydatids officer and dairy owner.
"It's been a great life. I don't think I'd swap anything," he said.