A lifetime of fighting fires
WHEN Andre Van Hoeck heard a siren 35 years ago it signalled the start of a career that spanned more than three decades.
The former Bellingen Fire Station Captain's dedication to his community has now been recognised with a coveted Australian Fire Service Medal - the highest honour a firefighter can receive.
Mr Van Hoeck is just one of three officers to receive this year's honour, presented by His Excellency General David Hurleyon at Canberra's Government House on April 30.
"I'm very honoured to have received the medal," he said.
"It was a special recognition for my family as well - especially my wife Christine who has been my support over the many years."
Andre joined the service in 1980 and later held the titles of retained and on-call firefighter with FRNSW before his appointment to Captain of the Bellingen Fire Station in 2002.
His career began just one year before his most memorable call-out - Bellingen's main street fire in 1981.
"The Hyde St fire destroyed five shops and we were close to losing the whole main street - it was a huge job," he recalled.
Mr Van Hoeck said the underlying sense of camaraderie had been a driving force throughout his career.
"The mateship with the fellow officers and professionalism of the organisation are the main reasons I've stayed in the job," he said.
"Being able to help people and to help a community - it's an honour."
FRNSW Commissioner Greg Mullins congratulated Captain Van Hoeck on the well-deserved recognition
"Through his vast knowledge of the local area Andre is well recognised for his many initiatives, particularly during flood crisis events to ensure that Bellingen Fire Brigade can maintain a high level of service delivery to community," Mr Mullins said.
"His initiatives have been responsible for greatly reducing property losses during many flood emergencies."
Retiring in February, Mr Van Hoeck said he was looking forward to spending more time with his wife, three children and five grandchildren.