Two years on; New Plymouth Fire Station embracing their unique cultural identity
If you’ve ever visited a Fire Station in another country you’ve got to admit, they’re pretty much the same. From the Northern to Southern hemisphere you’ll find similar buildings, furniture and even the same distinct Station smells. However, in Aotearoa, New Zealand, we are unique. Māori culture is a national treasure in our country, and valuing and respecting tangata whenua within our stations sets us apart from the rest of the world.
When Taranaki District Manager, David Utumapu stepped into his Area Manager role back in 2018 he saw the need to improve the Area’s acknowledgment of the local iwi, and understanding of tikanga (Māori protocols). As a proud Samoan/New Zealander, David values the differences that we all have, and wanted visitors coming to their District office to know they are not only visiting a fire station but a ‘New Zealand fire station’.
The Area team committed to doing better in this space and what followed was a long road of improving their use of te reo Māori and un-learning mispronunciation of common Māori words and places names. To solidify their commitment, a pare (carved lintel over a doorway) was commissioned by carver Jim Cassidy, Ngāti Te Whitī Kuao hapū.
Friday 5th November marked the two year anniversary of the unveiling of New Plymouth Fire Station’s pare which serves two important purposes for our people.
Passing through the kūwaha (doorway) and under the pare (lintel) of a whare has great symbolic importance. New Plymouth Station’s pare removes any influences that would hinder our Firefighter’s ability to function whilst on duty and does the same on their way out so they can return to their families better fathers, mothers, partners, sisters or brothers.
The existence of the Pare has also helped connect the station with local mana whenua. In the lead-up to the creation of the Pare, many hui were had around the mess table with Carver Jim Cassidy and local kaumātua Alby Martin. For them, they were able to better understand the lives of our Firefighters and Kaumātua Alby Martin commented that when he hears the bells go and the appliances dispatch he waits anxiously for the trucks to return the Firefighters home safely.
Today, David recognises while there is still a way to go he’s proud to see his District is on the right track with the vast improvement of speaking and pronunciation of Māori words and Karakia becoming commonplace.