Planned merger of rural-urban firefighting services gains traction in Nelson

by dpadmin on 22nd March 2016

Firefighters in Nelson Bays are awaiting decisions on how a planned merger of urban and rural fire services across New Zealand will be funded.

“Over time, there will be significant change,” Waimea Rural Fire Authority principal rural fire officer Ian Reade said. “But there’s not a lot we can tell people yet, until decisions are made about funding.”
Reade said rural fire had been consulted “very heavily” on the proposed amalgamation, described by Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne as the biggest change in 70 years to the structure of New Zealand’s fire services.

It was hoped the move would strengthen the support for volunteer firefighters.
“Without volunteers, we’d be a different look,” Reade said. “There’d be a lot more large, more devastating fires if we didn’t have our volunteers.” Reade said he believed part of the intention of the change was to provide more consistency around the country.
“We’ve benefited for many years from close liaison between rural and urban firefighters [in Nelson Bays].”
However, that was not always the case across New Zealand, he said.

Dunne announced a new line-up for the board of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission to lead the reform. Dr Nicola Crauford, Peter Drummond, Te Arohanui Cook and current member Angela Hauk-Willis would join the newly appointed chairman, Paul Swain, on the board from April 1.

Reade said rural interests were “quite strong” on the new board. Crauford, appointed as deputy chairwoman, was the chairwoman of the Wellington Rural Fire Authority, while Cook, of Hawke’s Bay, had held the role of principal rural fire officer.
Dunne said he expected funding arrangements for the new amalgamated organisation to be confirmed in the next couple of months “and legislation introduced into the House, with the new organisation being set up in mid-2017”.

Tasman District deputy mayor Tim King, who is one of two Local Government New Zealand representatives on a working party considering the proposal, told councillors he hoped decisions around funding would have been made in time for a meeting scheduled for late April. The funding options were being discussed at a Government level.
“There haven’t been a lot of other people involved,” King said. “Exactly what happens on the ground, who owns the stations etc is to be worked out in the ‘transition phase’.”
A briefing note about the proposal, prepared for TDC’s environment and planning committee, says the new organisation will be a merger of the 52 rural fire authorities in New Zealand, the National Rural Fire Authority and the New Zealand Fire Service.
The new organisation will have regional committees, which were added after concerns were raised that “local” knowledge and commitment could be lost, the briefing note says.

Under the proposal, local governments will no longer operate rural fire services but will be involved as members of the regional committees, as will other stakeholders, such as the Department of Conservation.
In the Nelson Bays region, the TDC and the Nelson City Council are part of an expanded rural fire district – the Waimea Rural Fire Authority (WRFA). The WRFA, whose board also involves Nelson Forests Ltd, Tasman Bay Forests Company, Federated Farmers, the New Zealand Fire Service and DOC, employs the Rural Fire Network as a contractor, the briefing note says.

The Rural Fire Network ensures the Volunteer Rural Fire Forces at Glen/Hira, Brightwater, Appleby, Ngatimoti, Tasman, Upper Takaka and Wainui have the training and equipment necessary to perform their role. The Lake Rotoiti and Marahau Volunteer Rural Fire Forces come under the care of the DOC zone commander.

TDC funding for rural fire accounts for about one-third of the total requirement, with another third from DOC and the final third from the city council and private forest owners. The TDC’s rate input for the 2015-16 year is $414,000, the note says.
The TDC also owns equipment and some stations.

“Concerns about transfer of local assets like the stations or engines having been funded by the community, will be managed through a process involving stakeholders,” the briefing note says.
It also says the minister committed to new investment in volunteers “that reflects the fact that they represent more than 80 per cent of our firefighters”.
King stressed the importance of ensuring the rural volunteers were well resourced and well looked after.
Volunteer firefighters, along with volunteers in other sectors, were crucial to the region, he said.

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