New Zealand’s current fire services legislation dates back to the 1970s, when a firefighter’s role was focused on putting out fires.
Now our firefighters respond to a wide range of emergencies including medical callouts, flooding and road accidents.
In 2013, there was a Government review of NZFS activities called the ‘Swain Report’.
UFBA Chief Executive Officer George Verry says this review contained 55 recommendations, ten of which were specifically around the volunteer sector.
“UFBA signalled our support of all of the recommendations to the Minister, the NZFS and the NZFS National Commander,” says George. “But except for one or two minor points, nothing happened.”
Fire Services Review 2015
At the UFBA Conference in Tauranga last year, the Minister of Internal Affairs Hon Peter Dunne, stated he wanted to build on the recommendations of the Swain Report by gathering more information to enhance proposed legislation to make fire services fit for purpose in the 21st century.
In May this year, the Minister released a Government discussion paper setting out options for reforming the Fire Service and asking for submissions.
George says following extensive consultation with members, and 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.
“UFBA is a key stakeholder and is working with the Department of Internal Affairs on ongoing consultation,” George says.
Future structure of fire services
At the UFBA 2015 Conference Opening on Friday 13 November, Mr Dunne announced the future structure for the Fire Service which will aim to meet the goals of stronger support for volunteers at all levels, ensure fire services meet community expectations, and modernise the management of the Fire Service to make it fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Mr Dunne said the 235 public submissions received by the review team sent a strong message in favour of change, which ran right through the different sectors of fire services - rural, urban, volunteers, career firefighters, small towns and big cities.
"I want to formally thank the UFBA again for the outstanding participation in this whole process. You have provided a strong, clear and influential voice throughout this review."
He said the Government will proceed with the Swain Review’s recommendations to modernise the mandate of the Fire Service to include activities like urban search and rescues, motor vehicle accidents and other emergency services that it currently has no legal mandate for.
The Government will also bring together volunteer, career, urban and rural firefighters together in one, integrated, new national fire service.
Mr Dunne confirmed this means recognising and respecting their differences and providing support appropriate for their needs.
Regional advisory committees
Mr Dunne said the new national organisation will be supported by a network of regional advisory committees to ensure both the protection of a regional and community-focussed perspective and its input into the work of the Fire Service.
The new national body will be responsible for resourcing fire services, training and professional standards, but will work with the regional boards on delivery matters.
The Minister confirmed it is critical to have a leadership function at the Brigade and Volunteer Rural Fire Forces (VRFF) level, and will work with key stakeholders to ensure details of the leadership roles in the new organisation will be effective and rank is recognised.
The new Fire Service will continue to be funded primarily through levies on insurance premiums with the final details still to be resolved.
New fire service board
Mr Dunne also announced a new fire service board will be appointed as a successor to the NZFS Commission - amalgamating the NZFS, the NRFA, and RFAs (including the ERFDs).
This will need significant transformational change and effective transition management.
Legislation to replace the current Fire Service Act and the Forest and Rural Fires Act will be introduced to Parliament next year, and it is the Minister’s aim to have the new fire service in place by mid-2017.
Ongoing UFBA consultation
Mr Dunne assured delegates there will be ongoing opportunities for our members to have their say throughout the transition and implementation, as well as input into the legislative Select Committee process.
George says UFBA will continue to work closely with DIA including on planning the transition to the new Fire Service.
“The changes coming will be substantial and our highest priority is effective advocacy on the issues and concerns of members.”
At Saturday’s Conference session, Bill Butzbach (pictured) and Murray McKee together with Sue Sherburd from the Department of Internal Affairs provided delegates with a full summary of the consultation and advocacy undertaken by the UFBA.
“The recognition of our work by the Minister during his announcement and the support of DIA personnel reflects the strength of the UFBA’s advocacy on behalf of members,” George says.
“We will continue to keep members informed of developments.”
For background information on the new fire services structure visit www.dia.govt.nz/Fire-Services-Review
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