Last Friday at Gunnedah Golf Club, Paul Hartley celebrated 50 years service to Fire and Rescue NSW. Born and bred in Gunnedah, Mr Hartley has spent the whole time serving for Station 314.

More than 120 friends, family, former and current firies came together to celebrate the milestone. Not only this, but Mr Hartley is the only person in Gunnedah’s history to reach 50 years of service.

“It just went so quick,” Mr Hartley said.

He began on June 15, 1974. It was remarked that at that time, Gough Whitlam was prime minister, Robert Askin was the NSW Premier and Bill Clegg was the mayor of Gunnedah. In 50 years, Mr Hartley commented how much things had changed.

“We didn’t have breathing gear back then,” he said.

“The chemicals, the transport, the uniforms… it’s all changed. It’s modernised, but it hasn’t changed in principle … we’re still here to assist and serve the public.”

In his time, Mr Hartley worked for the mines for 16 years and continues to help his brother at Hartley’s Electrical Repairs Gunnedah as an electrical fitter – a job he has been doing for more than 30 years.

“When I started, I was an apprentice here in town,” he said.

“On the night shift at the mine I’d be available during the day for a callout [and vice versa].”

At Fire and Rescue NSW, he was an engine keeper for about 27 years and has been deputy captain for more than two decades. In 50 years he has served under six captains and attended a range of callouts.

“I’ve been to car crashes, plane crashes, train derailments … and countless house fires,” Mr Hartley said.

“We haven’t had a boat run aground here though,” he joked.

During his time serving as a firefighter, Paul has travelled far to respond to emergencies – fires and floods. These include the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983, the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and floods at Lismore.

He shared what it was like as a firefighter seeing homes and property destroyed by fire or flood.

“We’ve seen it, we know what it’s like … there’s a lot of compassion and sympathy for [those affected],” he said.

But the one callout that continues to stand out to Paul during his 50 years of service was Australia Day in 2003. The Bestcare Pet Food factory explosion was seen, heard and felt across Gunnedah.

“I was at home playing totem tennis with the kids and it just hit my chest … I saw the smoke go up,” he said.

“I didn’t even get my shoes on. I just got in the car and went.”

Mr Hartley was responsible for driving the truck to the site of the explosion was among the first to respond after an initial struggle making it to the scene.

“There was just traffic down South Street … bumper to bumper, going to see what it was,” he said.

“But when we got there, it was just a mess. The boys went in there not knowing whether they’d come across people.”

For the time leading up to the explosion, the factory had been running 24 hours per day. But fortunately for the public holiday of Australia Day, no one was at the scene at the time of the explosion.

Reflecting on his time serving as a firefighter, he emphasised his time in the community and why people looking to become a firefighter should.

“Whether it’s helping the community or the adrenaline rush of a callout … there’s people from all walks of life, from all sorts of jobs,” Mr Hartley


“There’s a broad range of knowledge and experience amongst them all … you get a lot out of it.”

But after 50 years, Mr Hartley said he’s not quite ready to hang up the hose and helmet yet.

“As long as I can still climb up in the truck by myself, I’ll keep going.”

PICTURED: Paul with wife Janise, receiving his award for 50 years of service. Photo Gunnedah Fire and Rescue

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