It takes Michael McCombs just three minutes to drive from the Manawatu dairy farm he calls home to Kimbolton’s fire station.
The small one-truck station is staffed by community-minded people like Michael, who generously volunteer their time.
“I can hear the station’s siren from the farm,” he said. “The moment it goes off, I stop what I’m doing and jump in the car.”
“The other morning the siren sounded just as I’d finished feeding the calves and the artificial insemination (AI) technician had pulled up.”
Within minutes Michael was on the scene of a ferocious house fire in Cheltenham.
“The house was well ablaze by the time our crew got there,” he said.
“We were one of six trucks called to battle the blaze. Most of the 40-odd firefighters were volunteers,” he said.
“Tackling a massive fire like that takes a huge community effort.”
The Marton Young Farmers member joined the NZ Fire Service four years ago. He’s been part of the Kimbolton Volunteer Fire Brigade for three years.
He finds it hugely rewarding.
“We train once a fortnight and we prepare for everything,” he said.
“A lot of our callouts are health-related. It gives local people peace of mind to know a familiar face will turn up if there’s an emergency.”
It’s Michael’s dedication as a volunteer which has helped him win a NZ Young Farmers Excellence Award.
“I was stoked just to be nominated, and to make the top six was a pretty cool achievement in itself,” he said.
“I’ve been in an out of hospital a couple of times this spring. So it was nice to take a minute and realise I’m being recognised for what I do.”
Michael’s club mates are buzzing about his win, including Samantha Tennent who nominated him for the award.
“Michael deserves to be recognised. He does a lot for our club and the community and never toots his own horn,” said Samantha.
Michael’s in his second season contract milking 400 cows through a 32-aside herringbone milking shed in Kimbolton.
The location of the nearest fire station is a major factor when deciding whether to take a job.
“Most people with kids look at how close they are to schools or town, but I just look for the closest fire station,” he said.
“I’m lucky I have a supportive farm owner and staff member, which is vital.”
Kimbolton’s chief fire officer Tony McIntyre said New Zealand needs more volunteers like Michael.
“He’s bloody brilliant. He’s 100 per cent committed and he’s always there. If we have training, he’ll get up earlier to milk beforehand,” he said.
“It’s an ongoing struggle to find volunteers, so our brigade is extremely lucky to have someone as dedicated as Michael.”
The 26-year-old joined Marton Young Farmers just over four years ago. He’s always had a role on the committee and even served as club chair.
“I often use our club meetings as an opportunity to encourage members who’re close to fire stations to join them,” said Michael.
“There is so much to gain by volunteering. You learn first aid skills, give back to your community and it’s a great way to meet the locals.”
Staff turnover in the dairy sector often makes it difficult for smaller rural brigades to maintain an adequate pool of trained volunteers.
“It’s hard to get them to commit to a brigade when they might only be in the area for a season,” said Tony.
“But being a member is not all give. There are a lot of benefits such as training opportunities.”
“If people are worried about support when they have to leave their work or business for a callout, there are measures that can be put in place to help with that,” he said.
Michael moved to Kimbolton from Levin three years ago.
Prior to that he was farming in South Taranaki, where he was named 2015 Taranaki Dairy Trainee of the Year at the NZ Dairy Industry Awards.
Michael grew up in Upper Hutt.
In 1994 he helped his father write a short picture book ‘The Tractor Boy’.
“It illustrated what I wanted to be when I got older. There were chickens, horses and a couple of cows. The farm was almost like Noah’s Ark,” he laughed.
In a case of life imitating art, Michael’s starting to tick off many of his childhood dreams.
“Today I’m mowing 6.5 hectares of grass silage. Then I’ll head off to milk the cows,” he said in mid-October.
Michael’s also a budding apiarist.
“I have a few beehives. It’s a bit of trial and error. I’ve had mixed results to be honest. But I enjoy producing clover honey,” he said.
“It’s a passion I’d consider dedicating more time to if I ever gave up dairy farming.”
Despite his busy schedule, Michael always makes time to compete in a qualifying event for the FMG Young Farmer of the Year.
He’s been taking part in district contests in the East Coast and Taranaki/Manawatu regions for about eight years.
This year he was one of eight finalists in the Taranaki/Manawatu Regional Final in Wellington.
“I really enjoy taking part in the contest,” he said.
“I like benchmarking myself against my peers and putting myself under time pressure to prove what I know.”
“It’s all very well to sit there and say ‘yeah I can do that’, but put a 15 or 20 minute time limit on it and the basic becomes quite challenging,” he said.
Marton Young Farmers is always trying to encourage more members to get involved in the iconic contest.
“It’s a good day off the farm. You’re missing out if you are not part of it,” he said.
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