Juggling finance with fire: Meet Westpac's volunteer firefighters

Jessica Satherley
Juggling finance with fire: Meet Westpac's volunteer firefighters
Mark McEwan

In the first part of a series where we profile Westpac NZ employees who have extraordinary achievements outside of office life, we met two men who are also volunteer firefighters. 

“When I get a callout, I can be at the fire brigade from Westpac’s Pukekohe branch in three minutes,” Russ Clarke says. 

The 35-year-old credit analyst has been a volunteer firefighter for seven months and works between the Manukau and Pukekohe branches, where at the latter, he responds to callouts in the local area. 

When he’s not writing credit deals, Clarke is responding to callouts which could be anything from a medical incident to a motor vehicle accident or an animal rescue. 

“Our station gets around 450 callouts per year,” he said.

Russ fireman

Russ Clarke

“Sometimes a callout can take 20 minutes, from the time I leave the office and come back to my desk, or some more complex ones might take half a day.  

“It all depends on the situation and how many trucks are required. In a recent callout we had, there was a fire at a local college in their dining hall.  

“It ended up being a large response. It wasn’t a big fire, but it was enough to use the fire pumps and get the trucks out from the Franklin and Manukau area as well as a tanker because there was no water hydrant.  

“Westpac allows me to leave during the middle of day to callouts, because that’s when the fire brigade needs people the most,” Clarke said. 

When he’s not at work, Clarke could be having dinner with his family or sleeping in the middle of the night when his pager goes off for a callout. 

Training to be a volunteer firefighter is an ongoing task, including nine to 12 months of recruit training every Monday night, followed by a seven-day basics course with 20 other recruits to re-embed that knowledge. 

“My goals are to keep progressing and pushing myself, finish recruits and then become a qualified firefighter which will be another year or two,” Clarke said. 

Mark McEwan has been working for Westpac for 33 years and has also been a volunteer firefighter for two-and-a-half years and a first responder for one year. 

The 51-year-old credit risk manager at Auckland’s Britomart office responds to callouts in the evenings and weekends when he’s in his local area of Patumahoe. 

“I work a condensed fortnight so one Friday I work from home and the other Friday I have off so I'm available for callouts on those days too,” McEwan said. 

“My family and I had moved to a small district and I wanted to make some new friends and give back to the community.  It makes you feel that you can make a difference in someone’s life. 

“Becoming a volunteer firefighter isn’t just a one-day thing, it’s a big commitment but it’s very rewarding.  I've just been on another five-day training course in Rotorua and I’m always learning more. 

“It has helped me become a lot more confident, for example if a situation should arise when someone becomes ill on the street, as well the leadership skills in the brigade that help me in my day to day life – both professionally and personally,” McEwan said. 

His advice to others thinking about becoming a volunteer firefighter is to “stop thinking about it and just do it.”

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