Media Release: UFBA calls for 'equal treatment' of all firefighters by ACC

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The United Fire Brigades’ Association of NZ (UFBA) is calling for New Zealand’s ACC legislation to be amended so the country’s 12,000 volunteer firefighters are covered for occupational illness and diseases they incur as part of their duties.

There are 14,000 firefighters in Aotearoa - more than 85% of them are volunteers who provide emergency response across 93% of our country’s landmass.

As the largest association that supports both paid and volunteer firefighters, UFBA Chief Executive Bill Butzbach is calling for volunteer firefighters to be classified as equals to their paid counterparts under the ACC scheme.

"Volunteer firefighting is classified as a ‘leisure activity’ by ACC - which is a joke. It means our volunteers aren’t covered for any occupational diseases. Volunteer firefighters are often the first responders to all sorts of emergencies - they provide vital medical support, cut road crash victims out of vehicles, rescue others and fight fires.

"There is no difference in the way paid and volunteer firefighters respond to emergencies. They are exposed to the same trauma and risks. The ACC protections they receive should be the same too."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is reviewing the list of occupational diseases covered by Schedule 2 of the Accident Compensation Act 2001.

In its submission, the UFBA has asked MBIE to create a unique group of employment covering both paid and volunteer firefighters to ensure they are all covered by the scheme.

"We’ve also asked them to add another 38 occupational diseases to the list it will cover for firefighters - these include a variety of cancers, hepatitis, asthma and diseases caused by the long list of chemicals that all firefighters are exposed to in the course of their duty, While not within the scope of the current review, UFBA cannot emphasise enough the need for help when our people suffer psychological trauma which is a major impact of the work in our sector. says Bill Butzbach.

"The reality is New Zealand, like many other countries, cannot afford to pay enough firefighters to fully cover our country. Volunteers make up the backbone of our fire service. They save lives, support people during catastrophes and are vital to the communities they serve."

Bill Butzbach says the UFBA has raised the issue of ACC’s inequitable treatment of volunteer firefighters with government ministers.

"Volunteer firefighters serve their brigades for an average of 10 years and put their own physical and mental health at risk in the process. The commitment they make is enormous and it is high time New Zealand stepped up, changed its ACC legislation and showed more support to these everyday heroes."