Volunteer says his role with a local fire brigade is helped by the support of charity group NorthAble.

Paralysed down his right side all his life, 44-year-old Torrin Hona has never let the disability stop him from doing his bit for others.

And ‘his bit’ is significant. Hona, who was born with cerebral palsy, is a member of the team at the volunteer fire brigade in Kamo near Whangarei, where he moved to from Auckland two years ago.

Although he doesn’t fight fires, Hona plays a vital role in the brigade’s activities as both support officer and community educator, jobs which sees him carrying out important behind-the-scenes tasks like keeping a watch on fire fighter safety during their training exercises and running fire safety sessions for locals.

“I’m paralysed down my right side, but I just do what needs to be done,” he says. “I’ve faced a lot of challenges to get into this kind of work and it’s not been easy. But I’m lucky I’ve got a supportive family.”

He also believes he would have found it hard to do the work without the support of NorthAble, a charitable trust based in Whangarei contracted by the government to provide a variety of services to people with disability in Northland which includes the provision of equipment, information and support in the home.

Hona says NorthAble Matapuna Hauora has been “real helpful” since he moved north. “They oversee and run my needs assessments and manage things if I need help at home. This is important because I’m single and live by myself although my mum lives nearby.”

Hona has had a fascination with the work of the fire service - and all rescue services - since he was a young boy in Ngongotaha near Rotorua. A woman who lived next door to Hona’s family had a brother who worked as a caretaker at the local fire station and it was through them his passion for the work of the fire service was ignited.

The family lived a couple of streets away from the station and young Torrin would listen out for sirens and even listened to the brigade’s call-outs on a radio scanner he had.

His interest strengthened after the family moved to Auckland where he came into contact with a cousin of his mother who worked in a support role at the Auckland Central Fire Station: “He took me under his wing and talked a lot about the work he did.”

In Auckland Hona worked with the fire service and studied emergency services management at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Moving to Whangarei in 2019, Hona quickly established links not just with NorthAble, but with the Kamo Volunteer Fire Brigade.

As a community educator he attends events and promotes fire safety. “I talk to families and parents about the need to plan for an emergency, to have an evacuation procedure and the importance of arranging a meeting place,” he says.

Hona is also a member of the Disability Advisory Group that works with the Whangarei District Council on issues important to disabled people and, during the last America’s Cup, was back in Auckland five days a week where he volunteered for a number of tasks including running an information booth at the regatta village.

Despite suffering from cerebral palsy - a congenital disorder that affects movement, muscle tone or posture and usually appears in early childhood – Hona says he is kept busy. “I drive a car (it is modified to enable him to operate it safely) because I have to be available to the fire service when and where they need me.

“I cope pretty well and I always make sure I do a really good job.”

Hona’s mum Leonie (she is his independent funding agent) manages his support and together they set the hours he needs. NorthAble will step in if they need additional advice, review his needs and pass on information about community grants and other opportunities that are available.

Leonie says anyone considering applying for funding should not be afraid to push the boundaries of what they think is possible: “Plan ahead, stick within your overall budget and, if you aren’t sure about what you can do, just ask.”

NorthAble is a member of the New Zealand Federation of Disability Information Centres. It has an office and shop in Whangarei, agencies in Kaitaia and Maungataroto and a mobile van.

For more information on NorthAble visit: nzdsn.org.nz/member/northable-matapuna-hauora/