Message from George Verry, Chief Executive Officer
As a key stakeholder, the UFBA is continuing to represent the interests of our members as the Fire Services Review Team works through the early transition design phase to a new Fire Service.
The Fire Services Review Team is a group of representatives from the Government, NZFS, National Rural Fire Authority (NRFA) and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA).
Following the release last year of the Fire Services Review Discussion Document by the Government, the UFBA carried out extensive consultation with members.
With the best expertise on board - UFBA Director Bill Butzbach and consultant Murray McKee - UFBA formed a well-researched, soundly based and well-presented submission on behalf of members that reflected your views and provided an informed analysis of current and relevant issues.
Key points of our submission
There were a number of major thrusts in the UFBA submission.
We strongly supported the continued independence of volunteer brigades.
The majority of you do not want to be directly engaged as part of a national service as you believe this would reduce your links and commitment to your communities.
Any reforms must therefore bring with them more representation of volunteers and their needs at all levels of the structure.
Volunteerism must be fostered and supported.
We argued volunteer brigades should remain independent organisations that serve their communities, resourced by a central agency (currently the New Zealand Fire Service and Rural Fire Authorities).
It is critical to have a local leadership function at the Brigade and Volunteer Rural Fire Force (VRFF) level to ensure the new organisation will be effective and rank is recognised.
Enhanced support of firefighters as ‘community leaders’ is essential - as those who previously filled these roles, for example, police, bank managers and postmasters, no longer have a presence in many areas.
Updating the law so volunteers are protected against any liability for both the fire and non-fire services you provide is a further crucial point.
Bill and Murray are having ongoing meetings with the Fire Services Review Team to ensure members have appropriate visibility of the matters that affect them.
The pace of the work will increase in the coming months as officials prepare the detailed change proposals which the new Board will develop and implement.
We are working with the Fire Services Review team on matters considered to be potentially contentious, such as the way in which fire-rescue personnel are engaged and supported in the new fire services environment.
The Minister has assured stakeholders the focus of this review is not on changing terms and conditions but on broader sector issues such as governance, mandate, and increased volunteer support.
The UFBA is keen to understand how payments such as brigade grants and individual gratuities will be adequately catered for with the new legislation.
New Zealand depends on our volunteer culture of firefighters protecting their local communities with the right people and the right resources.
An independent report from Esperance Capital commissioned by the UFBA in 2014 estimated New Zealand’s volunteer firefighter contributions at $529 million.
A figure that backs up our assertion that retaining our unique firefighting volunteer culture is worth fighting for.
Rest assured, the UFBA will be proactive in advocating for our members at all levels - with the Minister, DIA and the Fire Services Review Team - to ensure the future of sustainable volunteer firefighting in New Zealand.
NZFS Commission changes
The Minister of Internal Affairs Hon Peter Dunne announced on 25 February that the Hon Paul Swain has been appointed as chair of the Board of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission, with effect from 1 April 2016.
The UFBA is delighted with the appointment of Mr Swain as Chair. He has a good understanding of the issues facing our fire services and, in particular, the matters that affect volunteer firefighters.
We understand other appointments to the NZFS Commission are on track to take effect from 1 April.
The NZFS Commission will be known as the new Board from 1 April and when the legislation comes into effect, the new fire services organisation will succeed the NZFS Commission.
The UFBA submission asked for legislation to require the appointment of at least one person to the Board who is well qualified and experienced in volunteer matters.
UFBA intends to continue extensive consultation with all members - rural, urban, volunteer and career - on the proposed changes to fire legislation, leadership and resourcing.
We are also liaising with National Rural Fire Officer Kevin O’Connor on connecting with more of our rural colleagues.
In our December 2015/January 2016 newsletter, I asked members to encourage their rural contacts who are not members of UFBA to consider joining our advocacy organisation.
I am pleased to report an excellent response to this call, including from graduates of our Leadership and Governance workshops.
The 122 graduates of these workshops are proving an excellent consultancy resource for UFBA advocacy processes, with many making themselves available to assist with rural consultation during the Fire Services Review.
Find out more
Click here for details of our next Leadership and Governance Workshop from 7-9 April.
To keep up-to-date with the Fire Services Review visit www.dia.govt.nz/Fire-Services-Transition
For a summary of the actions and advocacy undertaken by the UFBA on behalf of our members see www.ufba.org.nz/fire_services_review/actions
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