Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin yesterday announced a $4 million-a-year package to recognise the contribution made by Fire and Emergency volunteers to communities across New Zealand. This is timely during National Volunteer Week, which is all about recognising the contribution of volunteers to New Zealand’s economy and wellbeing.
UFBA and FRFANZ brigade members have been providing a sounding board to Fire and Emergency on the development of this reward and recognition initiative. We recognised inconsistencies between brigades where some paid out reimbursements from brigade funds and others didn’t. For example, some brigades reimburse child minding fees to allow single parents time to attend training musters on station. We also noted the need for consistencies over health benefits for both career and volunteer firefighters. While there were a great number of initiatives tabled including tax rebates and Fire and Emergency Levy discounts for employers, they chose just six with details yet to emerge around a health insurance offering.
Reward and Recognition is an important part of encouraging and retaining volunteers. While we know most brigade members do the role for the community, it is important that both FENZ and Government never grow complacent to the substantial contribution given by thousands of individuals. Sacrifices are given not just directly by brigade members but also employers and family and so this move is a much needed first step in including the wider role played in being able to respond to the 31,000 incidents a year.
The offered annual payment of $300 should not be seen as ‘payment’. We know the ethos around volunteering is important to you. But it’s also important that FENZ recognise the impact this has on your own pockets – even if just considering the basic fuel costs to travel to and from the station.
UFBA Chief Executive Bill Butzbach welcomes the news, ‘This important step shows recognition to out-of-pocket expenses incurred by volunteers for decades. This is no longer appropriate to bear when there are families to feed, cars to run and when FENZ volunteers already give so much of their own time to the community. We welcome this move and especially recognition around the sacrifices given by families for additional demands around time away for training at official training courses.’
We know anecdotally that most brigade members welcome the initiative, while others see it as tokenistic or trying to ‘pay a volunteer’. Others feel the money could be put to better uses. It’s a fact that with such a low population in New Zealand spread geographically over some very remote regions, volunteering will always have to play a role in the service. Initiatives to retain and entice new volunteers are necessary to ensure the service remains appealing to others going forward without being out of pocket.
The Esperance Capital Ltd Valuation Report of Annual Contribution of Volunteer Firefighters; Urban and Rural Report of 2014 identified the contributed economic value to NZ of all volunteer firefighters to be $529 Million. With inflation that would now equate to between $550-600 Million economic value of volunteer brigade members to society.
While volunteers don’t expect to be paid they should never be out of pocket. When seen as part of the greater economic benefit to New Zealand’s GDP of $3.5 Billion from ALL types of volunteers, we actually think the contribution volunteers give to their communities is priceless. We look forward to seeing more initiatives coming to recognise whānau/family and employers.
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