Shining a light on our Fire and Emergency volunteers 


This week is Te Wiki Tūao ā-Motu – National Volunteer Week and we’re shining a light on some of our 130 employees who volunteer for Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) across the country.

Brian Powell is a Tanker Operator based at Fonterra’s Kauri site in Northland and is the acting Chief Fire Officer at Onerahi Fire Brigade in Whangārei. Brian has been with the Co-operative for the more than 17 years and has been a volunteer firefighter for 34 years. 

“It sounds corny, but I wanted to be a fireman since I was five years old,” says Brian. “I really like volunteering and helping my community. We are there in people’s greatest times of need, some of their darkest moments.”  

Brian Powell completing the Firefighter Sky Tower Challenge

“Gone are the days of having to be a big burly guy,” he says. “A lot of what we do is support. Sometimes it’s about having that comfort person there. We have all walks of life volunteering at the brigade, and everyone has their own skill to contribute.”

“Fonterra are a fantastic company and that’s why I’m still here. It can be hard balancing shift work with volunteering, especially with an overnight call-out, but the Co-op has always been very flexible.” 

Brian says there’s also a huge social connection that comes with being a part of the brigade. “We have potluck dinners and a mid-winter Christmas event for example. Some people wouldn’t otherwise have that connection – we really check in on each other.”

There are tough moments too, like responding to motor vehicle crashes, but Brian says there’s always support. “We have a process we follow when we respond to something like that, we’re supported with counselling.”

Talking about the need for volunteers in communities such as Onerahi, Russell Wood, National Commander at Fire and Emergency, says: “Volunteers make up 80 percent of our workforce and we simply couldn’t deliver the service we provide without them and the support of employers like Fonterra. 

“Fonterra employees volunteer at more than 60 fire stations across the country. They are the largest employer of Fire and Emergency volunteers and do a great job supporting volunteering.”

Fonterra are a fantastic company and that’s why I’m still here. It can be hard balancing shift work with volunteering, especially with an overnight call-out, but the Co-op has always been very flexible.

Brian Powell, Tanker Operator, Fonterra

In addition to his work at the Onerahi Fire Brigade, Brian is part of the team behind the annual Firefighter Sky Tower Challenge, which celebrated its 20-year anniversary last month.

“I am part of the main core five who run logistics for the event, along with around 80 volunteers who help on the day.” 

The fundraising event challenges firefighters from all over Aotearoa to climb Auckland’s Sky Tower.

“We started with eight firefighters in 2004 and this year we had 1,100 climb the tower,” he says 

Across 20 years the event has raised over $16million for Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand.

Brian is passionate about doing what he can to fundraise to support those in need. “If you can, you should, is my motto,” he says. 

Jason Ansley is a Compliance Manager at Fonterra Whareroa and is the Chief Fire Officer at Pātea Fire Brigade in Taranaki. He has been with the Co-operative for the last 30 years and has been a volunteer firefighter throughout. As part of his role, Jason also manages the emergency response team on site.

“My father was a volunteer firefighter with the brigade from before I was born, he served 28 years before he retired from service, so I grew up with it,” he says.

Jason’s great-grandfather also served as a volunteer at the Pātea Fire Brigade. 

“As a youngster there was never any question about if I was joining, it was more a case of waiting until I was old enough and signing up!”

Brian was recently presented the Onerahi Order of Merit for his fundraising efforts

Reflecting on the last 30 years of service, Jason says, “Whilst there have been some stressful calls over the years, I enjoy being able to help others in their time of need…which are often their worst moments.”

“Being able to make a difference, be it big or small, is rewarding in ways that are impossible to describe without experiencing it for yourself.”

After identifying the need to replace an ageing operational support vehicle, Pātea Fire Brigade recently fundraised $70,000 over 12 months to go towards a fit-for-purpose 4WD.  

Talking about the need for a new vehicle, Jason says, “Patea is a rural community which means we often need to access remote areas. A lot of times we were relying on farmer’s quad bikes to get equipment to where it was needed, because the trucks just couldn’t get there.” 

As with many other small communities across New Zealand, the Pātea Fire Brigade is short of members and at times can find it a challenge to crew the vehicles to the ideal standard.

Learn more about volunteering for FENZ here.