Brian Reeves: Mainland to Northland – and back again

It’s the age-old question in a job interview: ‘How well do you work in a team environment?’

For most people, the answer would be something neither here nor there – trying not to come across as either too independent or too willing to delegate tasks.

But for our Orari Temuka Opihi Pareora (OTOP) zone lead – and former Armed Offenders Squad member – Brian Reeves, the answer is altogether different.

“The Armed Offenders Squad was a well-oiled machine in high-intensity situations where the entire reason it worked was because we relied on one another,” he explained.

“When people ask about an example of a team I’ve been in, I use that.

“I mean, you’re literally having to trust your teammates with your life every time you’re called out to an incident.”

The question surfaced during his interview for the OTOP zone lead position about 18 months ago.

A zone lead’s work is varied, Brian said, but generally entails working to achieve greater connectivity between the zone team and the community they represent.

The zone teams consists of Environment Canterbury staff tasked with making environmental gains working with local organisations, landowners and members of the public.

Brian drives and supports this multi-disciplinary team and, together with his colleagues in the Timaru office, works to make a positive difference in South Canterbury.

Some of the big challenges in the OTOP zone include the ongoing public transport trial, water quality and quantity, and air quality.

A mobile childhood

From early on in his life, Brian knew he wanted to be a part of a team carrying out meaningful work.

“It was quite a transient childhood; my father was in the Air Force. So, wherever bases were, we were – in fact I went to primary school in Singapore. Then onto Ohakea, Woodbourne, and Wigram where I attended Sockburn Primary, and where we kind of set up base.

“I guess I always had a deep-seated desire to join the police. I think that came from being a cub and an air scout on the bases, and I was actually only one step away from joining the air force at one point.

“From about 17, I was also playing Southern League football (a now defunct whole-of-South-Island league), where I had two teammates in the police too, and I just thought the world of them. I thought to myself, ‘I want to do a meaningful job like them’,” he said.

But having applied to join the force in Christchurch, he was told he had “no chance”, as “everyone who applied wanted to be in Christchurch.”

So, Brian packed his car and drove to Auckland where he rented a flat – but he needed a part-time job to fund his stay.

“I was driving around the Ellerslie/One Tree Hill area where I saw a guy in a commercial mower. I tapped on the window and basically asked him if he knew of any work going.

“He asked did I know how to use a mower, I lied and said I did, and I became a groundsman for a while, while I trained to become a policeman,” he said.

Moving closer to home

After about 18 months as a constable in Auckland, Brian secured a move to Timaru – an area he knew far better.

“I continued on in Timaru in the same role for about three years. It was very diverse in Timaru as we were kind of expected to do everything, whereas that wasn’t the case in Auckland.

“Some nights we did just go round on foot or bike for hours – 9pm until about 5am sometimes.”

In that time Brian encountered everything from gang violence and missing persons, through to lost dogs and false alarms.

It’s given him many more skills to add to his toolkit for the new role, Brian said.

That includes interpersonal skills, negotiation, front-footing problems, confidence, and the ability to deal with stressful situations with a clear mind. All needed when taking on a zone lead role.

A change of scene

A few jobs came and went before Brian applied to become a resource management officer (RMO) at Environment Canterbury in the Timaru office.

“I’d always been interested in that and I knew some people who were there already. I admired what ECan did and how they went about dealing with dairy farmers. So, I was lucky enough to get that and I did it for 18 months and then tiptoed into incident response.”

Incident responders are the first on call to reported events like pollution or discharge breaches.

“Soon after (the move to incident response) there was a chance offered to become a zone lead and I realised I could utilise some life skills that I wouldn’t in other roles.

“I think I bring life experience, empathy and practical thinking in dealing with problems.

“My philosophy is that if someone’s asking for help why would we not try and make their life a bit easier? I like transparent relationships – I’ve had some challenging managers in the past, so I really enjoy working with my team and getting the best out of them in a way they feel comfortable,” he said.

For all questions relating to air quality, land and water in the OTOP zone, contact Brian through his email: or phone 027 807 3284.