A Waikanae woman has been appointed the first female chief fire officer of a volunteer fire brigade in the Wellington region.

Sarah Sundgren has replaced John Backler as the chief fire officer of the Waikanae Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Mr Backler has retired after 15 years in the role.

"I have been associated with the Waikanae Volunteer Fire Brigade all my life," Sarah said.


"My father Bernie Sundgren served as a volunteer fire fighter for 27 years, most of which was in Waikanae."

Following in her father's footsteps, Sarah became the brigade's first female fire fighter in 1992, one year before New Zealand's first female chief fire officer was appointed at Lake Hawea Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Despite the challenges experienced in this male dominated environment, Sarah steadily worked her way up through the ranks from fire fighter to senior fire fighter to station officer, a rank she has held for the last four years along with brigade training officer.

Late last year Sarah completed 25 years service with the Waikanae Volunteer Fire Brigade, and a Gold Star celebration will be held at the station in February where family members, friends, invited guests and brigade members will honour her dedication and commitment to the brigade and the Waikanae community.

Eighteen Gold Stars have been awarded to members of the Waikanae brigade, which also includes two members who have each served more than 50 years.

Sarah, who reached the finals of the public policy section of last year's Women of Influence, a nationwide programme that recognises and celebrates women from all walks of life who make a positive difference to the lives of their fellow New Zealanders, joins 16 other women currently commanding brigades throughout New Zealand.