On Thursday 27 October, Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne and I issued a joint-release to mark the beginning of public consultation on the future funding of New Zealand’s fire services. The Board is proposing an increase in the rate of levy on fire insurance contracts for the first time in eight years.
We expect the levy will need to increase by about $36.00 per year for the average homeowner, or 70 cents per week. We know that every dollar counts for New Zealanders. However, this proposed increase has been calculated to ensure firefighters are properly funded to provide services to their communities, which include firefighting, responding to medical emergencies, motor vehicle crashes, hazardous materials incidents, and natural disasters.
It will help fund our fleet and property assets, particularly around the Government’s requirement for seismic strengthening of emergency service buildings around New Zealand, and the re-build of 13 fire stations in Christchurch.
It will also cover the estimated cost of rural fire ($22m), which will be transferred from the current range of funding sources, including local government rates, to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) from 1 July.
Public consultation is open until 5pm, Wednesday 30 November. For more information or to make a submission, please see firelevy.co.nz
Last weekend Board members Nicki Crauford, Peter Drummond, and I attended the United Fire Brigades Association (UFBA) 138th Annual Conference in Christchurch.
As that number indicates, the UFBA has long had a significant role in representing and advocating for brigades.
At this conference, UFBA Chair Rick Braddock and I signed a Transitional Advocacy and Support Agreement which confirms our commitment to working together post the 1 July establishment of FENZ.
It was a privilege for Nicki and I to join Chief Executive & National Commander Paul Baxter in hosting the seven firefighters who received Queen’s Service Medals in the 2016 New Year’s honours list in Wellington this month.
The 2016 recipients are Shane Beech of Maketu, Mark Bentham of Piopio, Clifford Deery of Kawakawa Bay, John Harlick of Tuakau, Graeme Humphries of Te Anau, Tony Scott of Kawakawa, and Sylvia Forester of Waitotara.
Each has been recognised for outstanding service to their communities over many years, which is at the heart of our fire services.
My very sincere congratulations to the recipients for this royal recognition of service to your communities, the New Zealand public, and our Fire Service.
Board meeting: October 2016
Paging and local committees were key among the issues discussed at this month’s Board meeting.
You recall that Spark had announced that the current pager network would be shut-down. Paging is still an important part of our despatch mechanism and will be for the foreseeable future until there is a reliable fail-safe replacement technology. It is also an essential component of our national emergency response capability.
We are currently working on a solution that will ensure paging can continue without disruption. More details on this will be provided in the next update.
As you’ll be aware, the FENZ Bill allows for the establishment of Local Committees. There has been considerable interest in the role of these committees, which will have an advisory, non-operational function to ensure FENZ is responsive to the risks and needs of the communities in which it serves.
It’s important we trial these committees through pilots, so we can test the idea and ensure we get it right. The location of the first pilot Local Committee has been chosen, and will be announced shortly.
We are also planning to have another pilot up and running before 1 July next year.
The formal establishment of all Local Committees cannot commence until the FENZ Bill has been passed.
What’s changing, what’s not
The Board understands there is some uncertainty in the sector about what’s going to be different on Day One, and what will be the same.
To provide some clarification around this, we have issued a short two-page guide to what’s changing and what’s not, in areas like operations, volunteer support, and response assets.
For example, first response and operational zones will remain the same on 1 July. Brigades will continue to exist. A clear command and control structure will be in place. Response assets built-up through fundraising and community donations will continue to be used in their communities. However, arrangements will be in place for FENZ to access these assets to meet its urban and rural fire responsibilities. All personnel (paid, volunteer, urban, rural) will become members of FENZ.
The full ‘What’s Changing and What’s Not’ guide has been issued to all stations, and you can also find it on fenzproject.co.nz. Please read it and share with your colleagues.
Safety, health and wellbeing
This month we looked at health and safety from the volunteer perspective, with a presentation from the Chief Fire Officers of Plimmerton and Paraparaumu brigades.
The Board and I were very impressed to hear about their efforts to increase training and make sure their people were compliant with responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. However, we also heard their views that safety incident reporting could be made a lot easier.
We need to ensure consistency between urban and rural firefighters to meet their health and safety responsibilities from 1 July.
As indicated in the ‘What’s Changing and What’s Not’ guide, a FENZ health and safety plan will be in place.
It may take some time to work out what we need and introduce new systems if required, but bringing more than 40 urban and rural fire organisations together is as good an opportunity as any to develop consistency across the sector.
Doing so will also give us the opportunity to not just meet our obligations under the Act, but identify where we can do better, and how we can make it as easy as possible for firefighters to do so.
Until the next update, stay safe and keep up the good work.
Hon. Paul Swain
New Zealand Fire Service Board Chair