TIME FOR CHANGE: A review found the New Zealand Fire Service in need of a makeover and the government is taking steps to proceed with changes. Photo: John Cosgrove
The review, released earlier this year, made several recommendations. Among the problems it found was the rural fire forces’ mandate under current legislation stops at fire responses, despite the increasing practice of fire personnel turning out to non-fire emergencies.
Minister of Internal Affairs Chris Tremain confirmed last week Cabinet had agreed to the next step of the review policy.
While expected this month, no policy decisions had been made yet on the review’s recommendations, he said.
The next step was to modernise the fire service’s legal mandate and ensure effective and efficient service delivery and to begin the process of establishing stable and equitable funding, he said.
“Meantime, the department is still working through the recommendations one by one.”
Tremain hoped to take policy decisions to Cabinet in the next couple of months and planned to have legislation introduced to Parliament before the end of the year.
Under existing legislation the fire service has no legal obligation to attend non-fire emergency work.
Many of these services can be characterised as rescues and emergencies, such as motor vehicle extrications and decontamination of people exposed to hazardous materials.
The panel was concerned NZ communities expected firefighters to deliver these services and relied on them to do so.
The review found there were questions on whether firefighters could be held personally liable if something went wrong while they were carrying out non-fire duties.
Federated Farmers was talking to the Minister as he considered the recommendations and would be seeking members’ feedback before new legislation was released, policy adviser Nick Hanson said.
The review recommended establishing a register that made clear the emergencies the fire service attended and empowering the Fire Service Commission add or subtract from the register without legislation.
In practice the commission would discharge this function through the urban fire service, which includes small-town volunteer brigades.
In areas where the urban fire service was unable to respond in a timely manner because of geography the commission would be able to accredit appropriate bodies and fund their training.
The panel intends that accreditation would likely go to the local rural fire authority, which would have the right of first refusal in its given area, although other agencies, such as roading contractors, could be accredited.
The proposed shake-up of the fire service would also expand to the way it was funded.
The review panel recommended the service recover its costs of call-outs to fires and rescues and change the way it charges commercial property owner levies.
The commission is responsible for co-ordinating NZ’s 74 rural fire authorities taking in about 12,000 volunteers, who staff rural and urban fire stations in towns and small communities.
The commission plans through its Enlarged Rural Fire Districts programme to slash the 74 fire districts to fewer than 20 by mid-next year to cut costs and improve efficiency.
In 1995 there were 121 fire districts. to edit.