Greg’s story as told by Kristie Boland and published in “The Press” on June 22 2021. Reprinted with permission from Stuff News.
Greg Barrett had just returned home after battling wild bush fires in Nelson in 2019 when he began feeling unwell.
Two days later, he was in hospital – a stay that lasted three months. He lost all sensation in his legs.
The Christchurch volunteer firefighter was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an illness that shuts down the immune system, resulting in extreme pain and paralysis.
When Barrett was finally discharged from hospital , he spent six months learning to walk again.
“It’s the wierdest feeling when you look down and you go, I want my feet to move, but nothing happens.”
Barrett was concerned about the impact on his work with the Spencerville fire brigade, in Christchurch’s northern suburbs.
He lives near Bottle Lake Forest, so had volunteered for firefighter training to be able to protect the area should there be a fire.
Since joining, Barrett has been to 10 rural fires, including the Port Hills and Nelson fires.
His “world got turned upside down” by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, he said.
After 12 months Barrett was able to walk again with the help of a walking stick.
He approached Spencerville fire chief John Reed about his situation, feeling he “wasn’t ofany use” as a firefighter, but was told: “Once you’re a part of our brigade, you’re always a part of our brigade.”
Barrett continued to attend training nights with his walking stick.
“When something like this happens to you, you try to find your new normality. I learned quite quickly that if you don’t accept that normality as to what it is, then you can never move forward.”
He is still not fully recovered but is making good progress.
Volunteer firefighting was about “being part of a community and serving that community”, Barrett said.
“I am proud to be a volunteer firefighter and to be aprt of my crew,: he said.
Volunteers make up nearly 12,000 of Fire and Emergency NZ’s staff at more than 600 fire stations.