TWO Riverland brothers are going out in a blaze of glory and hanging up their helmets after collectively dedicating 100 years of firefighting service.
Paringa Country Fire Service (CFS) firefighter Alan Eckermann and his younger brother Kevin, the Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) regional commander, have made a pact to officially retire on September 30.
The brothers are two of 12 siblings (four deceased) from the Eckermann family, and spent their childhood in Paringa, where Alan still resides with his wife Kath.
Alan, 79, joined the first unit of the Paringa CFS in 1962 and has clocked up 57 years of volunteer service.
Kevin, 67, joined Renmark’s MFS in 1975 and is retiring after 44 years of service, with Garrick Lehmann to take the reins of regional commander.
Alan said a major sawmill fire at Paringa sparked his desire to join the CFS.
“At the time I was a farmer and very fire conscious,” he said.
“No one was around to put the sawmill fire out, so we had to get Renmark out there.
“Through the council, it was decided we should form an EFS (emergency fire service) and that is how the Paringa unit began as a rural fire service.”
When Kevin married his wife, Rhonda, they also lived at Paringa.
“In those days you couldn’t be a member of the MFS if you lived out there, but we ended up moving into a house at Renmark and I signed up,” he said.
“We moved to Adelaide and I became a full-time MFS firefighter in 1976, rising to the rank of commander, before taking up the role of the Riverland’s MFS regional commander in 2013.”
Alan has added other volunteer roles to his belt over the years, including with the Riverland’s Royal Flying Doctor Service and Riverland Local Government Association, and was involved in the Paringa Football Club’s formation in 1961.
He was also the one and only mayor of Paringa.
Alan said his father, Gerhard ‘Gary’ Johan, had passed down his community-mindedness.
“Dad always said to me ‘look after the community, because the community will look after you’,” he said.
“That stuck with me all my life.”
Kevin similarly shares Alan’s passion for serving the community.
“It’s what led me to join the MFS and I have loved every minute of my career since,” he said.
“While I was in Adelaide I worked as a groundsman for a number of schools and was a football umpire for 24 years.”
Emergency Services Minister Corey Wingard thanked the local brothers for their 100-year service achievement.
“These two brothers have provided remarkable service to the community over such a long period,” he said.
“I congratulate, and thank them, on behalf of all South Australians, and will ensure the legacy of their work is not forgotten…”
Both Alan and Kevin plan to spend more time with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in their retirement.
“I have two daughters and a son, eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren,” Alan said.
“Kath and I like to see the ‘grandies’ at least once a fortnight or we get withdrawals.”
Alan joked Kevin would finally join him playing bowls.
“Perhaps,” said Kevin, “but I do want to play golf, go out in the boat and spend time in the garden.
“I have three daughters, seven grandchildren and three step grandchildren around the place, including in Queensland and Adelaide, so we plan to travel a lot more to see them.”
The brothers encouraged locals to join the state’s two fire services.
“More people are needed, but you have to be prepared to put the time in.” Alan said.
Kevin said he would miss the people of the MFS.
“The biggest standout for retained firefighters is not only their professionalism and knowledge, but their respect,” he said.
“We will both miss belonging to a second family.”