TAMWORTH’S Brian Howard has been successfully leading a double life for most of his working career.
He’s managed to juggle dual roles as a firefighter and broadcaster, and Saturday was the 45th anniversary of his first posting at Randwick Fire Station.
Having graduated from Fire Brigade Training College at Paddington, young Howdy was wet behind the ears, but a true baptism of fire was in store for him.
On that first night shift, he attended a fatal motor vehicle accident, where a car had crashed into a power pole on South Dowling St, killing all five occupants.
The total of his first pay packet was $64, and at the time he was paying $18 a week rent on a flat at Coogee.
In ensuing weeks, the Randwick crew attended a large supermarket fire, and blazes at both Bronte Surf Club and Bronte RSL.
One of the biggest fires he recalls from those days was a 10-storey building at Taylor Square in Oxford St.
When he’d finish a shift at the fire station, Howdy would don a set of headphones and start spinning discs at Radio 2KY, and later 2SER-FM.
He attained the rank of senior firefighter in Sydney, having worked at Randwick and Alexandria stations and with the breathing apparatus and hazmat units.
In 1989 he took the option of a treechange and headed bush, where he worked with the West Tamworth Fire Brigade and at Radio 2TM as part of the Hoedown team, with Nick Erby and Bruce O’Hara.
Five years later, he became captain of West Tamworth Fire Station – and he’s still leading that double life, only now he’s heard each weekday from 5am to 9am on 88.9FM.
In almost half a century of fighting fires, much has changed, with firefighter safety the major point of difference.
“Our safety and wellbeing is now top of the tree, whereas it never used to be way back then – we just did it,” Howdy said.
“We’re trained not to get hurt. Also, fire education of the public is another big thing that’s changed.”
Fighting fires in regional and rural areas is very different to life at city stations.
“Here in the country, you don’t get the huge fires like we did in Sydney,” he said.
“Alexandria, where I was stationed for 13 years, was a huge industrial area. There’d be a factory fire practically every shift.
“Here you get the occasional house fire, a few motor vehicle accidents and the rest mainly nuisance fires.
“It’ a good job, though. I’ve always enjoyed walking into a fire station – even after all these years. It’s like anything ... if you don’t like it, don’t do it.”