Central comcen shift manager Andrew Tollison and partner Barbie Patchell have had a rough time of things recently.

Andrew spent three weeks in hospital after nearly dying of pneumonia. He was home only five days when baby daughter Hannah, born 15 weeks premature, was hospitalised with a bronchial infection. Son Josh was born nine weeks premature.

"It's been a hell of a year", says Andrew. Swimming in baggy jeans that used to fit, he stopped by the office recently to say hello to colleagues he had not seen for over a month.

For him the upside of his year from hell has been the support he and Barbie have received from the Fire Service. Andrew has been a volunteer firefighter with the Stokes Valley brigade for more than 15 years. The brigade has stuck by his family every step of the way through their trials. The Welfare Society's support was "spectacular, fantastic", he says.

Firefighters visited, did the shopping, gave the family petrol vouchers and were always there through cards and emails, he says.

"It's been humbling, amazing."

In late August he was looking forward to returning to work and the colleagues he missed. And he has vowed that "we won't have another year like this."

Barbie Patchell used to work for the Fire Service, first with the SITE project and then with the administration team at Arapawa Fire Region head office in Wellington. She left to become administration manager for the Queen's Wharf Events Centre before taking on the full-time job of mother.

Star magazine – September/October 2002 (Issue No. 72)