The joy of helping people in their time of need is what inspired Colin "Toss" Kitchen to dedicate a lifetime to Kaitaia Volunteer Fire Brigade.

On Saturday, Kitchen – the senior station officer of the brigade – received a 50-year service medal for his five decades of volunteer work.

Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre was transformed for the occasion, with a host of fire trucks outside and fire brigade-themed table ornaments and stage decorations inside.

About 375 people attended the celebration, including Mr Kitchen's friends and family from as far afield as Switzerland and Australia. Alan Cockburn, from New Brighton in Christchurch, presented the medal to Mr Kitchen on behalf of the United Fire Brigades' Association.

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He is just the 190th person in New Zealand to receive the 50-year service medal and the third in Kaitaia.

Kitchen was humbled by the ceremony and very proud to achieve the 50-year milestone. His motivation was easy to pinpoint: "I'm a people's person and I enjoy helping the community and people in their time of need," he said.

"I feel pretty proud but I wouldn't have done this without my family – they've been on the journey with me over the years – and also my fellow firefighters that I serve with: they all give their time 24/7 without recompense."

Deputy chief fire officer and MC for the night, Ross Beddows, said the award was "very significant" but fitting.

"Toss is nothing short of a bloody legend in Northland – everyone knows him in the fire service," Beddows said.

As well as volunteering with the fire brigade for 50 years, Kitchen spent 20 years working for New Zealand Fire Service as a volunteer support officer. He also found time to captain the fire service's national rugby team.

Kitchen is also a councillor for the Far North District Council, a Northland District Health Board member, a civil defence representative, and a board member for Sport Northland and Volunteering Northland.