Roy Smith's first job as a volunteer with the Hikurangi brigade in 1985 was a car accident in which four people died.
An emotional wallop to take on your first outing, but a part of the job that doesn't get any easier, Mr Smith said.
"Especially when you have young children or babies involved," he said.
The fire service now has a good support system in place for members who need help coping with the stressful and emotional parts of the job - but when Mr Smith started, they would just have to work it out themselves.
"You'd just go home and have a cup of tea, and that was sort of it," he said.
He started with the volunteer Hikurangi brigade in 1985 then, after a two-year break, has been there since 1987.
He joined up shortly after moving to Hikurangi, having previously been a Coastguard volunteer further south. Since 1998 he has also been involved in volunteer fire officer driver training across Northland.
For a small station, Hikurangi is a busy one, Mr Smith said.
Major events he has attended include the Kamo New World fire in the late 1990s, explosions at the dairy factory at Kauri, fuel tanker crashes, a helicopter crash, and a plane crash in Kaikohe, for which he happened to be in the area and lent a hand to the local fire volunteers.
The age-old struggle for fire brigades is getting enough volunteers, especially these days, Mr Smith said.
Since Mr Smith started with the Hikurangi volunteers there have been changes in the way people spend their free time. "On your weekends you went to the fire station to see people, it was the social place," Mr Smith said.
And that social connection and feeling of community at events like gala days is a rewarding aspect of being a volunteer firefighter, he said.