Changing weather patterns continue to keep us on our toes. Last month began with huge vegetation fires in hot and dry conditions. This month the balance tipped the other way, with record amounts of rain recorded in the upper North Island.
Our thanks to all personnel who have been helping with evacuations, flooded vehicles and property, and clearing debris from the road – especially those of you whose family and belongings were also affected by these floods.
As with the Port Hills fires, the flood response was a team effort. In one case, the Hunua Volunteer Rural Fire Force ferried over 200 children out of a flooded camp by tractor, while Coastguard used their boat to rescue several people. The entire rescue operation was overseen by a NZFS career crew from Papakura. The Hunua School then opened its doors to receive the evacuated parents and children, who were provided with food and drink by the local community and a NZFS Operational Support Unit, and blankets from Red Cross.
That’s just one example – elsewhere St John, Civil Defence, Police, and Defence also stepped up to serve their communities, in partnership with urban and rural firefighters. NZFS Communications Centre staff had a key role to play in coordinating all this action. I’m told they received 582 emergency 111 calls on 12 March alone, answering one call every 24 seconds at peak.
All of which goes to show that while we can’t control the weather, there’s a lot we can do by working together effectively, which is one of the aims of our new organisation Fire and Emergency New Zealand, to be established on 1 July.
This month’s update covers:
Progress towards 1 July
Transferring to the new organisation
Recent planning meetings with our people
National Forum: 27 April
Nationwide urban and rural fire meetings in May/June
Fire Risk Management
50 Year Medals
Progress towards 1 July.
Recently we released a summary of progress towards 1 July or ‘Day One’ of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, see link here. This two-page update covers new information and recent announcements. Please read and print it out to share with your colleagues.
Transferring to the new organisation.
Our focus for 1 July is to make sure that existing services to our communities continue without disruption on ‘Day One’.
With that in mind, the transfer process for New Zealand Fire Service / National Rural Fire Authority employees, and employees of Rural Fire Authorities will be as follows:
NZFS/NRFA employees’ existing terms and conditions will remain unchanged when they become employees of Fire and Emergency New Zealand on 1 July. Letters of confirmation will be sent to all NZFS/NRFA employees in late May.
RFA employees face a different process to become employees of Fire and Emergency New Zealand. Firstly, their current employer, whether this is a Territorial Authority (TA) or Enlarged Rural Fire District (ERFD) is required to consult them about the proposed change to their employment. We have asked TAs and ERFDs to begin this process now.
Once consultation is completed, RFA employees who are currently employed to work solely (whether full or part-time) on fire duties, will from mid-April onwards, receive a letter of offer from Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
RFA employees who are currently employed to work partly on fire duties, will as part of consultation have a discussion with their employer on the impact of the proposed changes on their role and the employment options available to them. This will include the ability to apply for any of the vacant new roles that will be created in Fire and Emergency New Zealand that will be advertised in mid/late April.
Urban and rural volunteers will become Fire and Emergency New Zealand personnel on 1 July. Volunteers will continue to maintain the same relationship they currently have with their brigade or rural fire force.
Gratuities will remain in place for anyone who is currently eligible to receive them. Any new personnel of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, who are employed after 1 July on Collective Employment Agreements (CEAs) with the NZPFU, NZFRCA and PSA, and new urban volunteers who are eligible under current policy, will also be eligible to receive gratuities.
We recognise that there are differences in the payments that people receive across the sector such as gratuity eligibility, payments and reimbursements for volunteers, and varying employment agreements. This is not ideal, nor is it possible to fix before 1 July. We are well aware of these issues and will be looking to address them with Fire and Emergency New Zealand personnel, and unions and associations, in the ‘integration’ phase over the next three years.
You also have our commitment that everyone will receive fair consideration and treatment throughout the transfer process – all transfers will be legally compliant with the Employment Relations Act 2000 and will be made as per the provisions of the new Fire and Emergency New Zealand legislation, which is still expected to pass in Parliament in mid-April.
Recent planning meetings with our people.
The past month has seen several major workshops and meetings held with urban and rural fire personnel to get more of the sector’s views on the establishment of Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
Over the weekend of 25 – 26 February, we held our first Volunteer Working Group meeting in Upper Hutt with 45 urban and rural volunteers from around the country to discuss proposed initiatives for volunteers in the new organisation.
On 28 February and 2 March, we brought over 150 urban and rural fire managers together for ‘Leading through Change’ sessions in Auckland and Wellington to discuss progress, and what’s expected of them as leaders, in the build-up to 1 July and beyond.
Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne spoke to attendees at both sessions and he acknowledged that our leaders will be “crucial to the success of Fire and Emergency New Zealand”. Minister Dunne also recently visited the new Puhoi Fire Station to see its construction underway and you can watch a video of him talking about our new organisation here.
On Tuesday 7 March I was also able to speak with Wellington Area’s Senior Station Officers at Newtown Station about their role as leaders and the value of their skills and experience in shaping Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
On the same day, representatives from fire service unions and associations also came together with some of their members (including front line Senior Station Officers, Chief Fire Officers, Rural Fire Force Controllers, and Area Managers) to provide input into what the Command and Control policy will look like for 1 July.
The group talked about how current practices could be improved and the importance of keeping people safe – all agreed an interim structure was critical for 1 July to ensure current services will continue without disruption.
Attendees at each of these events were frank with their comments and questions, and we greatly appreciate this. Their guidance is helping to shape our new organisation.
Minister Dunne speaks with urban and rural fire personnel at the ‘Leading through Change’ session in Auckland, on 2 March 2017.
National Forum: 27 April
Last July we brought together more than 170 people who work within or alongside our fire and emergency services to update them on what Fire and Emergency New Zealand will look like on ‘Day One’.
A lot of work has happened since then, so we are hosting a second National Forum on Thursday 27 April to thank all invited representatives for their commitment to working together over the last year and to update them on the progress towards 1 July and beyond.
Nationwide urban and rural fire meetings in May/June:
Following the National Forum, Fire Region Managers, Area Managers, and Principal Rural Fire Officers are planning to meet fire brigades and rural fire forces throughout New Zealand to update people on progress towards 1 July. These meetings will be similar to those held before Christmas last year.
There is now a lot of information coming out about how we will operate from 1 July, and we know that the best way to discuss this information is in local meetings face to face. These meetings will be held over May and June and will provide an opportunity for people to hear about the plans and to ask questions. Please keep an eye out for a meeting near you.
Fire Risk Management
The Board wants to acknowledge all the work that was done by our Fire Risk Management teams in the lead-up to changes to the Residential Tenancies Act last year, which made the installation of smoke alarms in rental properties mandatory.
For example, following the tragic house fire deaths of three Hamilton students in November 2014, the Waikato Area Fire Risk Management team worked proactively with local property managers to promote the installation of smoke alarms through a combination of face-to-face meetings, property management seminars, radio advertising, and visits to the university campus. This resulted in the majority of local property managers surveyed reporting they had purchased or installed smoke alarms by 1 July 2016, when the changes came into effect.
Initiatives like this are excellent examples of the great work already underway in schools, homes, and communities all over the country to reduce the incidence of unwanted fire. The Board is committed to building on this, and to working with our people post 1 July so that Fire and Emergency New Zealand can meet its fire responsibilities to reduce unwanted fire under the new legislation, and deliver the best possible services to our communities.
50 Year Medals
Congratulations to Deputy Chief Fire Officer Carl Beissel of Levin, who received a 50 Year Medal for his long service at a ceremony attended by Board Member Angela Hauk-Willis on Saturday 18 March. Thank you Carl for your outstanding commitment to the New Zealand Fire Service and your community.
Until the next update, stay safe and keep up the good work.
Hon. Paul Swain
Board Chair, New Zealand Fire Service Commission