Chats with Karen Holmes and Chris Aitchison from the Volunteer Raglan Fire Brigade

Our Volunteering in Whāingaroa series showcases volunteer-run groups in Raglan.

Q: What is the best thing about your work with the Raglan Fire Brigade / Fire Emergency New Zealand (FENZ)?

Chris: Being able to provide essential services and expertise to our community and visitors during times of crisis. The training allows our team to thrive in these situations and carry out whatever may be required. The team is tight, a family really, we all have each other’s back.

Karen: Yes we have to trust each other. 

Chris: It’s such trust.

Karen: We are a big family, really big family, current and past firefighters, a global family. 

We have a close bond, the desire to give back to and help our community. If anyone in our community is in the unfortunate situation to need our help then that is what we do. Families of our members are also recognised. It’s our families that miss out on times, events etc where mum or dad has gone to help. I am 1 of 4 girls on our team and we undergo all the same training as our male colleagues; that’s Girl Power.

Q: Do you have a history with working in the emergency services? 

Karen: My husband Kevin was in the Brigade from 1995 to 2019 and he was the Fire Chief 2007-2019. I joined in 2019 and I am now a Senior Firefighter. I came with experience from St John’s ambulance plus I am a registered Nurse. 

Chris: I work for a medical device manufacturer so have many years of experience in the operating theatre and emergency department. To add, my employer has been fantastic in supporting my decision to volunteer. Living just a stone’s throw away from the station for over a decade meant that every time I heard the siren I felt I should get down there. As my children grew older, and with the support of my amazing wife, Sarah, the opportunity to join the service came about. But joining isn’t just about the individual, it’s the whole family. They’re the ones who put up with our sudden departures, late-night calls, and worry about what we might be doing.

Karen: You need to know, “Is this for me? It is a big commitment as there is weekly training plus courses to attend as well as responding to emergency call outs.

Chris: The Fire Brigade is a massive investment. You can’t just, ‘turn up and volunteer,’ I’ve done my first year and the modules, bookwork and training…  

Q: Where would you like to be in Five Years Time?

Karen: I would like to be Raglan’s first female Fire Chief! It would be an honour to continue the work of those Chiefs that have come before me. 

Chris: Karen would be great, in 5 years I would like to be one of her Senior Firefighters.

Q: Anything else you would like to tell us about?

Karen: If we get exposed to traumatic incidents, we have psychological support available to us so we are well supported by Fire and Emergency NZ in that regard. For example when I first qualified it was a Friday night. The next day on Saturday night I had my first house fire. Nothing good comes out of a house fire. They are traumatic. Same goes for a serious car accident or a medical incident – we generally know the people and their families because we are a small town; as a Fire Brigade we learn to cope. 

Thanks so much Karen, Chris, and to all of you and your team at The Raglan Volunteer Fire Brigade. I am at a loss for words and speaking with you has been truly one of those ‘goosebumps’ moments for me as a writer. On behalf of all of us, thank you for everything you do. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.