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Submissions called for on Fire Services review

Proposals to improve support for volunteer, paid and rural firefighters and to ensure fire services meet community expectations are open for public feedback.

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne has released the Fire Services Review Discussion Document and is calling for submissions over the next six weeks.

“We need every frontline firefighter we have to keep providing their essential services,” Mr Dunne said. “But we also need to better support our volunteers, to make sure we are meeting the needs of communities, and to ensure the structures behind all fire services are as efficient and effective as possible.”

“The discussion document is the government’s response to the report of the independent Fire Review Panel, which called for reform in December 2012. Since then government officials and the fire service have consulted more than 20 key organisations, and found an appetite for change,” Mr Dunne said.

The extensive consultation has identified three key problems placing our fire services under increasing pressure: changing expectations, a lack of coordination and variable leadership and inconsistent investment decisions.

“These problems mean there are health and safety issues for rural fire fighters, shortages of volunteers in some areas, unclear lines of responsibility between fire services and other agencies, and inefficiencies,” Mr Dunne said.

“The discussion document contains three options to improve the support for firefighters, better reflect local needs, and enhance the governance of fire services. It also proposes options for how to fund fire services. The funding options can be applied to any of the structural models for change.”

  1. Enhanced status quo

This option focuses on the Government’s response to the 2012 report. It does not include additional matters that are covered in Options 2 and 3. Urban, rural and volunteer fire services would remain as separate entities. There would be increased support for volunteers. Rural Fire Authorities could continue to voluntarily merge.

The mandate for the Fire Service Commission and Rural Fire Authorities responding to non-fire events would be clarified. The structure of the Commission would be modernised.

  1. Coordinated service delivery

This option includes the same elements as the enhanced status quo model, with additional changes for volunteer and rural fire services. Volunteers and rural firefighters would be better supported by the new fire service, including through training and equipment. New fire districts would be established and new Rural Fire Authorities would be established to deliver rural fire services. The new Rural Fire Authorities would have local independence, backed by national support, leadership and monitoring.

Separate organisational structures between urban and rural fire largely remain in place; however, the new fire service would be able to monitor, assist and intervene if necessary. Significant legislative and operational change would be required.

  1. One national fire service

This option would integrate urban and rural, volunteer and career fire services into one national organisation. All volunteer firefighters would be in a direct relationship with the new national fire service.

Fire stations would remain closely connected to their communities and may be staffed by career (paid) firefighters, volunteer firefighters, or a mix. Community engagement and consultation would identify each station’s needs and its role in emergencies. Local government would no longer have a role delivering rural fire services and may no longer have a role in funding rural fire services. Significant legislative and operational change would be required under this option.

The discussion document also looks at how to improve the way the Commission is funded. There are problems with the insurance-based fire levy, including that it does not reflect the range of activities the New Zealand Fire Service provides, and that it can be confusing to calculate.

The discussion document looks at two potential options to improve the fire service levy. The question of how the Commission is funded is separate from the question of how much funding the fire services receive. The cost of making any changes to the fire services will depend on which option is chosen. After consultation, detailed financial modelling will take place to work out the cost of the option chosen.

Mr Dunne said there is a clear case for change. “Problems with the existing structures are evident. We need to do more to support our volunteers, we need to ensure fire services meet community expectations, and we need to modernise the management of fire services. I urge all those with an interest in this area to read the discussion document and make a submission.”

Submissions close on 10 July 2015.

The Discussion Document, Submission Form and supporting information is available here: http://www.dia.govt.nz/Fire-Services-Review

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