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Mystery death at 20: Firefighters on callout devastated to find one of their own

Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Sat, 27 Jan 2024, 9:47AM
Wallacetown man Bryant "B-Man" McKenzie was a community-minded person who loved the outdoors.
Wallacetown man Bryant "B-Man" McKenzie was a community-minded person who loved the outdoors.

Mystery death at 20: Firefighters on callout devastated to find one of their own

Otago Daily Times,
Publish Date
Sat, 27 Jan 2024, 9:47AM

Wallacetown volunteer firefighters called to a medical event were devastated to find it was one of their own — 20-year-old Bryant McKenzie — who had died in his sleep. Toni McDonald reports on a “firecracker of a human being”. 

“B-Man” was a charismatic young man, who was always keen for a yarn and squeezed more life in to his 20 years than most people. 

His name was Bryant McKenzie, but most knew him as B-Man. 

As a late arrival into his family, he had the advantage of growing up around adults, which gave him wisdom beyond his years. 

Older brother Trent said Bryant had the benefit of several father-like role models growing up including brothers, grandparents and uncles, who all treasured the special times they had together when he tagged along. 

But in Bryant’s own words, he was parents David and Fiona McKenzie’s “favourite son” — even if it was a self-appointed title. 

Wallacetown softball coach Carl Stewart at the service said the keen softball player had a natural sporting ability as well as a natural ability to be anyone’s friend. 

“He welcomed anyone. 

“He didn’t judge anyone. 

“He’d be your best mate after five minutes. 

“He’s a true gentleman and what a good Kiwi bloke is ... 

“Someone no one could dislike ...” 

Bryant’s sense of humour and mischief was clearly portrayed in the several parody videos he created. 

Raised in Wallacetown, he had a rich outdoors life peppered with his passion for sports, hunting and fishing. 

Full of enthusiasm, he was a team player wherever he showed up — sports fields, working bees, fire brigade, helping in the kitchen at some function or finishing several gruelling Skytower climbs to raise funds for Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand. 

His desire to share, serve and help others helped the apprentice sheetmetal worker to custom-finish an aluminium-hull boat. 

He enjoyed people and his goal was to take whoever was willing with him fishing on Southland-Otago lakes. 

James Hargest College rugby coach Paul Tomlins said he saw Bryant’s playing and leadership abilities develop from the blended high school teams to his involvement with the Waikiwi club. 

“He was developing as a great senior player ... and enjoyed the after-match and high-jinks that go with a rugby team.” 

Bryant officially joined the Wallacetown VFB at age 16, but he had always lingered in the background since he was a baby. 

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) Southland group manager Dean Chalmers said Bryant crammed a large amount of service and learning into his four years with the Wallacetown brigade and wider Fenz community. 

“[He] was a firecracker of a human being.” 

Chalmers said he had seen members of the McKenzie family “give so much” to Fenz and Bryant lived the McKenzie family ethos of helping and serving others. 

Bryant left a legacy of doing what you can, when you can and not letting age or tradition stand in your way, he said. 

Wallacetown Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer Blair Eade said the young man had been earmarked for leadership development and had been incredibly proud of his 99.32 per cent attendance record and serving alongside his father David and brother Trent. 

Wallacetown deputy chief fire officer Ben O’Conner recalled the night Bryant died. 

The crew trained 47 times a year for all kinds of scenarios, but when this call came in on Thursday, January 11, they had to attend a job they had not trained for, he said. 

Trent said firefighters were trained to focus on doing their best job for those who needed their help. 

“We learn to switch that off and we do what needs done because people are relying on us ... we don’t want to become part of the problem.” 

When they were called out, they knew they would deal with their emotions later, but for that moment, Bryant needed them. 

“We did everything right and we acted well as a team.” 

Despite their best efforts, a medical condition unexpectedly took Bryant’s life. 

“It’s pretty brutal ... all the team absolutely loved Bryant.” 

On Friday, January 19, one last call went over the radio and the Wallacetown station’s siren sounded, as B-Man took a final ride in his beloved boat past his colleagues gathered outside the Wallacetown Fire Station. 

The crew also formed a guard of honour at Ascot Park, where his funeral was held. 

Bryant is survived by his parents Fiona and David, sister Kim, brothers Ash and Trent, and their families. 

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