Greg Paine medically retired from Wingham Fire and Rescue

Farewell and thank you: Greg Paine, wearing a helmet from the start of his firefighting career, and holding one from the end. Photo: Julia Driscoll
Farewell and thank you: Greg Paine, wearing a helmet from the start of his firefighting career, and holding one from the end. Photo: Julia Driscoll

It’s the end of an era for Greg Paine.

He has fought to protect our community from fire for 35 years, and is now being forced to hang up his hat after being medically retired from NSW Fire and Rescue.

Greg joined the Wingham Fire Station as a retained firefighter on December 1, 1981 when he was 27 years old. He was transferred to NSW Fire and Rescue’s Honorary Roll for retired firefighters on November 10, 2017.

“It’s a bit disappointing. I would have rather have went out by myself but that’s a different story. Thought about it many times before it happened though,” Greg laughs.

It’s a bit disappointing. I would have rather have went out by myself but that’s a different story.

Greg Paine

He joined because the then fire captain visited Greg’s place of work, Wingham Frames and Trusses, in a bid to have new members join the brigade. Back then, all they had to do was turn up to a meeting.

“Turned up down there and and I’ve been here ever since”, Greg says.

“In those days it was a lot easier to join. It’s the way it should be today. If it was still done like that today you’d probably have plenty of members.”

Greg’s most memorable fire was, without any doubt, the one that destroyed the Bottom Pub (Wingham Hotel) in July 2000. The call came in at 1.15 in the morning, and they didn’t get home until some 14 hours later.

“When you got there, the way it was lit up you could see right into it. It was just all fire,” Greg says.

“Because all the outside walls were gone, that’s what you could see, like all the rooms inside and that. It was a spectacular fire, really, but it was so disappointing; devastating really,” Greg says.

July 5, 2000: Greg's most memorable fire was the Bottom Pub inferno.

July 5, 2000: Greg's most memorable fire was the Bottom Pub inferno.

Though that might have been the most memorable fire for Greg, it certainly wasn’t the most horrific. The ‘honour’ for that goes to one at Wingham Showground, where he had to retrieve a dead body.

“A bloke used to live in a caravan there beside the grandstand. A little bloke by the name of Lexie Green. A gas cylinder blew up inside the caravan. That was pretty horrific, actually. We had to pick him up and lift him out through the back window of the caravan. It was the only way of getting him out,” Greg says.

“But we’ve had plenty of good times over the 35 years!”

Greg and Dave belly laugh over memories of getting wet many a time, when training down at Wingham Brush meant members got their boots wet or accidentally fell into the river.

And then there were the Christmas parties, but they both remain tight-lipped about those stories.

Greg has naturally seen many changes over the decades, from not being able to leave town and missing his children’s sports games on weekends because the only way of knowing there was a fire was the siren on top of the station, to changing attitudes and values meaning less people willing to commit to being a retained firefighter, even though it is a paid position. 

The only time I ever saw my kids play sport was when they were playing in Wingham, because I had to hang around on a weekend.

Greg Paine

Perhaps the biggest change is in firefighting techniques and equipment – when Greg joined there was no breathing apparatus, and the helmet was nothing more than a hard hat to protect the skull. Now, helmets are a high-tech piece of gear that contain light, radio communication and protection from heat for the face. 

Now Greg no longer has to wear the helmet, but he is once again working at Wingham Frames and Trusses, and has plans for after retirement.

Greg and Denise have bought themselves a Winnebago motor home. So far they have only taken weekend trips, but once the couple have both fully retired they plan on travelling Australia.

Greg is officially being farewelled by his Wingham Fire and Rescue family with a dinner at Wingham Golf Club on June 30. Dave O’Donnell asks if there are any firefighters that worked with Greg want to attend to please contact him on 0427 717 164.