Ady McKenzie is well known for tackling a challenge, and her new job is no different.

The 41-year-old mother-of-one is the latest firefighter to join the team at Whangarei Fire Station. She is also the first woman to work at the station in nine years.

The Whangarei woman, who is well-known for her running pursuits - including the Auckland Marathon crown - said she had always thought about joining the fire service.

McKenzie said the lulls and then the burst of adrenalin when a call comes in, is similar to her previous life as a sportswoman.


"The ups and downs you get in a sporting career, are the same in this job - it's all go or it's not."

She had been teaching for 14 years in Sport and Recreation at NorthTec and decided it was time for a change last year.

Ady McKenzie on the job in central Whangarei. Photo/Tania Whyte
Ady McKenzie on the job in central Whangarei. Photo/Tania Whyte

McKenzie started her training in September and then started at Whangarei Fire Station in late December.

She said she was drawn to the career because she "wanted to help with serving the community".

In three short months, McKenzie has been to an already diverse range of jobs - fires, motor vehicle accidents and hazmat jobs.

She said she also has to spend the first three months continuing her training and drills at the station.

"I really love it. It's definitely what I thought it was going to be."

The former high-performance athlete said the training was hard.


"Physically, I'm a fit person but physical strength was something I had to work on."

McKenzie, who weighs 60kg, has to wear gear weighing around 15kg, carry a hose which weighs 16kg and pull up ladders which weigh around 30kg.

She was encouraged by her nephew Jake Brown who is also a firefighter based at Whangarei.

McKenzie has already sought out her next challenge - she is taking on the Firefighters Sky Tower Challenge in May.

Her previous role in education hasn't been totally deserted, as McKenzie is part of the team delivering Fire Wise programmes in schools, and working at public events.

She wants to see more women involved in the fire service.

Nationally there are 1613 paid male firefighters and 62 paid female firefighters. There are 9230 male volunteer firefighters and 1776 volunteer female firefighters across the country.

Whangarei senior station officer Corey Matchitt said the physical side can steer a lot of women away from the paid firefighter side of things, but those who do take up the career are often former sportswomen.

McKenzie agreed, she said she found the physical test difficult and on the day she did the physical pre-entry test the two other women who passed were also from sporting backgrounds.

Jackie Breen, National Advisor Women's Development, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, said Fire and Emergency is committed to breaking down some of the misconceptions of what is required of a "typical firefighter" and attract more women to the role.

She said the service is currently reviewing its recruitment strategy to ensure it positions itself well as a desirable option for women looking to move in to a career or volunteer role with emergency services.