Neil Rutledge farewells flames and fuses

NOWRA man, Neil Rutledge is pulling the plug after 42 years working in the electrical industry and 36 years with the Nowra Fire Brigade, nine of those as captain.

“I’m 65 this year. It’s time to retire," Mr Rutledge said.

Described as a quiet achiever, he completed his apprenticeship as an electrician before following in his father’s footsteps into Shoalhaven City Council as a fitter mechanic.

He took care of council’s assets with the installation and maintenance of electricity for different departments. In those days the electricity supply was run by local council before amalgamating with Illawarra County Council in 1980.

In 1995 it became Integral Energy and in 2011 it became Endeavour Energy. With all that change, Mr Rutledge has been a mainstay. He became an inspector in 1980 and at one stage had five inspectors working underneath him.

“It’s been a great industry to work in and I’d recommend it to anyone,” he said.

As part of his job he has had to help investigate house fires as well as work closely with police to investigate properties that might be involved in growing marijuana.

“I’ve seen some pretty interesting things in my day,” he said.

Wearing two hats as both an inspector and a firefighter has worked well for Mr Rutledge.

“I became a firefighter in 1978 through another fellow who worked with me at the time. We were on call 24/7 so without the support of Endeavour Energy I wouldn’t have been able to carry on my firefighting work,” he said.

“In the days before pagers we had to live within a 2km radius of the station and have a phone.

“Instead of people calling triple-0 in an emergency they would call the fire brigade instead and the call would go to five homes of firefighters so someone would get the call,” he said.

Radio station 2ST also had a system that would set a tone off over the airwaves and a prerecorded message would say, ‘Would all Nowra Fire Brigade members please report to the station.’

The Nowra brigade is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year and has seen nine captains over that time, with Mr Rutledge being the ninth. He also spent 10 years as deputy captain.

Mr Rutledge has been present for many local emergencies including the time a car slammed into the industrial-sized LPG tanks at the back of the fire station.

“If they had blown up it would’ve taken out half of Nowra,” he said.

He was also on hand when the John Bull Centre nearly burnt down the first time in 1985.

“Fortunately we were able to save it.”

For both jobs, Mr Rutledge has seen many changes but the major one would have to be advances in technology as well as workplace safety.

“In the old days we wouldn’t have any breathing apparatus. We would just go into a burning building and hope for the best,”

Mr Rutledge has worked the two jobs for the past 36 years.

 “Without the support of my wife Gillian and my children, I wouldn’t have been able to do everything I have.

“I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family and we do plan to do a bit of travelling,” he said. 

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