Rotorua's John Harrison has traded in his parachute to take on his new role as Rotorua Airport's fire and operations manager.

Clocking up more than 1400 parachute jumps, Mr Harrison has trained New Zealand Defence Force and foreign military personnel around the world to do the same.

Settling back in Rotorua with his young family, Mr Harrison has returned to his first love of firefighting, and sees the move home as a chance to give back to the community in which he grew up.

Growing up at Lake Okareka, Mr Harrison always had his heart set on being a fireman and volunteered for the Lake Okareka Volunteer Rural Fire Force for four years from the age of 15.


"I always wanted to be a fireman and when I left school the New Zealand Fire Service wasn't recruiting, so instead I joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a fireman," Mr Harrison said.

After reaching the rank of senior fireman, Mr Harrison signed up for a parachute course and quickly became hooked, going on to train New Zealand defence personnel.

"My step-father was in the British Army, his influence got me into jumping, as well as the fact that the hangar was right next to the fire station.

"When I first started, the parachutes were terrible - they were old, so they fell really quickly and they also had no brakes or steering. By the time I left my position, I was running the advanced training cell with experience in every aspect, from round parachutes to square parachutes, freefall and tandem jumping, dispatching vehicles from a C-130 Hercules military aircraft and instructing instructors."

Mr Harrison said his needs changed with a young family and it was time to apply his military skills to the civilian sector.

His new role at Rotorua Airport is no small task, encompassing every aspect of running the airport including fire safety, security, runway inspections, maintenance, parking and managing the contractors.

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"I'm really looking forward to sinking my teeth into a job that I can happily spend the next 10 years in. My role is almost a combination of everything I've learnt," he said.