The Mangawhai Volunteer Fire Brigade is bouncing back after a tumultuous year, but issues are still hampering the brigade.
The station has a new officer in charge, Morris Doughty, who started last year, replacing Mike McEnaney, who was suspended from duty after allegations of bullying.
Mr Doughty says brigade membership has rebounded in the wake of Mr McEnaney’s departure, increasing from about six to 18 members.
The fire brigade has also climbed the area rankings to be third equal out of 16 brigades, rising from the bottom of the table.
But despite the improvements, two trainees were rejected from joining the brigade in July, even though they had completed months of training and the brigade was short of members.
Both volunteers had completed a week-long recruits course and had graduated as fully qualified fire fighters. But members held a vote, in line with Fire Service policy, to determine whether the two prospective members could join the brigade and neither gained enough support.
One of the rejected volunteers said on social media that she felt heartbroken.
“I have suffered so much for this brigade, turning up to training and leaving my family to train … My heart and soul have been destroyed.”
Mr Doughty says he was following the Fire Service procedure and he hopes the two people will have the opportunity to join the brigade in the near future.
“They were voted out, but told they’ve got every opportunity of having another look at it.
“The vote was held at the request of a group in the service.”
Mr Doughty says the morale of the brigade has improved remarkably, but some frictions still remain, which they are trying to work through.
Kaipara and Whangarei assistant commander Wipari Henwood says the Fire Service is taking a more active role in ensuring the Mangawhai brigade is recovering from its dysfunctional past. He says the service is confident the brigade is on the right track.
“In the past we’ve tried to take a hands-off approach, because it’s their brigade – we don’t live there and they need to have autonomy to run it as they see fit,” Mr Henwood says. “But where we failed before was in not giving assistance and direction before trouble started, so we are working with the brigade more closely.”
He says despite the recent signs of continuing dysfunction, the brigade is on the right track.
“It is a concern to us. We’ve taken a close look at the situation, but are confident things are getting better.
“They are putting their differences aside, but building a harmonious unit will take time. We’ve got confidence in the officers that we’ve appointed who are making ground.”
Mr McEnaney is still suspended pending an investigation, but Mr Henwood wouldn’t comment on what the investigation was focusing on, or when it was expected to conclude.