Newspaper Article 2006 – Former deputy fire chief proud of his city

On September 8, 1956, Hastings was proclaimed a city.

Fifty years later, we celebrate the people and events that put Hastings on the map and count down the days until the anniversary.

Former deputy fire chief proud of his city


Lou Jillings will always remember 1956 as a special year. Not only did Hastings become a city, but he was also promoted to deputy fire chief of the Hastings fire service.

Mr Jillings had been in the brigade for 17 years when he became second-in-charge, so he had seen a lot of action.

During more than 40 years as a firefighter Mr Jillings, now 84, won many awards, including the Gold Star in 1964.

He was also in the winning United Fire Brigades’ Association team in the 1953 New Zealand Championships and was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal in 1982.

“I joined in 1939. I was 17, a year too young, but the superintendent wanted to make the team up.”

He enlisted in the Navy and at the end of 1943 went to England to train on submarines in Portsmouth, but was never involved in any fighting.

He returned to New Zealand at the end of 1945 to serve 10 more years before being promoted.

He has fond memories of the day that Hastings became a city. He said the entire brigade assembled at Windsor Park from where they paraded through towns finishing in Nelson Park.

“There were demonstrations that went on for two days steam engines and machines and all that.

“We showed people the fire pump in the park. One of the firemen left the pump running and the water ran out.”

His wife Joyce, who was busy looking after their five-month-old child at the time, remembers the fire engines at the demonstrations, the concerts and highland dancing.

“We kind of took it for granted, the change into a city.”

She said it was a wonderful time. Everyone rode bikes, and the assembly hall was always aglow on Saturday nights with people dancing the foxtrot and quick step. Mr Jillings played snooker, which was popular.

In 1956 the couple were living at the fire station.

Mr Jillings was working four 24-hour shifts a week and was highly respected, eventually becoming fire chief in 1974.

Until 1950 firefighters’ breathing equipment consisted of war-time gas masks. Mr Jillings has seen many changes since then, with more sophisticated equipment now the norm.

The worst fires he has fought were the Watties factory fire in 1962 and the Tomoana freezing works blaze in 1979.

He said he was never scared because he always had plenty to do.

Coping with thick smoke was particularly difficult.

“We had to go down low to the ground where there was some air. We used to cough up black stuff.”

Mrs Jillings was born in Hastings and Mr Jillings came from Auckland when he was just one year old, so the couple had seen many changes to the city.

Mrs Jillings said the city had come ahead in “leaps and bounds”.

Mr Jillings also noted developments such as the showgrounds and the race course.

“A lot of the old wooden buildings and old department stores have gradually been pulled down, and it looks a lot different now.

“The population has grown a lot. There were a lot of industrial jobs which brought in people. Havelock North was taken over – it wasn’t included in those days,” Mr Jillings said.

“It was a wonderful city to live in, and still is.”

Photo caption – LOOKING BACK: Lou Jillings, deputy fire chief in 1956, has spent 83 years in Hastings.

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Newspaper article

Date published

4 August 2006


Hawke's Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Lou Jillings
  • Joyce Jillings
  • Lucy Vickers
  • Andrew Labett

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