Fire and Emergency New Zealand Launch, A&P Showgrounds, AshburtonInternal Affairs
Good morning, Kia ora tatou everyone.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here, on this momentous day in New Zealand’s firefighting history, to mark the establishment of Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
Firstly, I want to acknowledge a few special guests:
- Donna Favel, Ashburton Mayor and councillors
- Fellow MPs Hon Amy Adams and Hon Jo Goodhew
- Hon Paul Swain, Chair of the Fire and Emergency NZ / NZ Fire Service Commission Board and other members of the Board
- Fire and Emergency NZ Chief Executive Rhys Jones
- National Commander Urban Paul McGill
- National Manager Rural Kevin O’Connor
- Fire and Emergency NZ Transition Director David Strong
- Region Managers Steve Turek and Richard McNamara
- Representatives from unions and associations
- Past and present members of local urban and rural volunteer brigades and fire forces in attendance today.
I would also like to acknowledge Frank Hardy, one the first two Commissioners of the New Zealand Fire Commission appointed in 1975.
Lastly, I would like to take this time to wish everybody else in Fire and Emergency NZ, who will be celebrating in their own way all around the country today, all the very best.
New Zealand’s firefighting history stretches back more than 150 years, and I am delighted to mark the beginning of a new chapter in that proud legacy today.
Indeed, Ashburton has been able to call on its own volunteers for 140 years, since its urban brigade’s formation in 1874.
That tradition is carried on stronger than ever today by urban and rural firefighters here and the people who work to support them – who like their colleagues around the country, have come to work increasingly side-by-side to protect life and property in their communities.
Urban and rural firefighters alike honour that same spirit of service that motivated the early settlers of this area all those years ago.
Even if the horse-drawn pumps and buckets have since been traded in for 4WD Tankers, defibrillators, and hydraulic extraction tools.
Because it is true that the jobs this country’s firefighters are called on to respond to have changed, as our communities have changed, over the years.
Since July last year, New Zealand’s firefighters have attended 3,824 structure fires, and 3,403 vegetation fires.
But in the same period they also attended 8,832 medical calls and 4,597 motor vehicle accidents, 1,801 incidents related to storms or floods.
Beyond the ongoing fire risk, and the vital prevention work that goes in to preventing fires, non-fire calls make up an increasing part of firefighters’ work.
It is firefighters our communities have come to rely on when motor vehicle accidents, storms or earthquakes threaten, working alongside other emergency service agencies.
Though firefighters of today are motivated by the same community spirit that drove their forebears, it is a far broader role than was originally intended.
The legislation and means by which our firefighters are funded have not kept up with these changes – indeed, many people are surprised to learn firefighters do not actually have the legislative mandate to provide assistance at motor vehicle accidents, or rescue people from floodwaters.
Fire and Emergency NZ is our response to those changing needs.
Backed by new legislation and funding that recognises the full scope of the work firefighters do today, this new organisation brings 40 separate organisations and over 14,000 personnel together.
As I have said previously – this is not a takeover of any part by another, and there is no place for anyone who thinks it is.
Rather, Fire and Emergency New Zealand is designed to be greater than the sum of its career and volunteer, urban and rural, national headquarters and regional components.
It is giving legal recognition to the vital role firefighters play in responding to non-fire emergencies such as motor vehicle accidents, severe weather events, and urban search and rescue.
It is an opportunity to ensure firefighters are funded fairly for the full range of work they do, and address the variability in rural fire funding that currently exists – to ensure all communities in New Zealand enjoy equitable access to fire and emergency services.
It is recognising the vital link between firefighters and their communities, and ensuring that is preserved with local advisory committees to ensure the new organisation is responsive to the risks and needs of the communities in which it serves.
It is building on the proud history that urban and rural firefighters have established with their communities, and establishing a fire and emergency service that’s fit for the 21st Century.
It is recognising and supporting the role of volunteers, who will be 80% of Fire and Emergency NZ’s workforce, who we rely on for nationwide coverage, particularly in rural areas.
It is also recognising the instrumental role of career firefighters, who provide 24/7 coverage in our major population centres, and who will provide many specialist skills in the new organisation.
In all, Fire and Emergency New Zealand represents the most significant change to our fire sector in over 70 years, since the Ballantynes fire in Christchurch.
At this point it is worth reflecting that the creation of a unified, national fire organisation was one of the recommendations to come out of the Royal Commission that followed that tragic incident.
While I cannot speak for the time it has taken for us to make good on that recommendation, I am delighted to see it finally take effect.
Through the review process and transition period over the past 18 months, I have met with hundreds of firefighters, and dozens of brigades and rural fire forces, local councils, forest owners, farmers, government agencies and community representatives.
Many told me change of this kind was long overdue – and there have been no fewer than 16 attempts at it.
It is my firm belief that we are only here today, due to the collaborative spirit that the fire services sector, its key stakeholders, and partner organisations have embraced at every step of this process.
So I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to everyone who has been involved in this transition, and the review period leading up to it.
I would like to acknowledge the Hon Paul Swain and the Fire Service Commission for their role in driving this work, alongside the Department of Internal Affairs, and the Fire and Emergency NZ Transition team.
A phenomenal amount of work has been undertaken to set up a new organisation in just under a year, with operational input.
I understand over 700 events and workshops have been held with the sector over the past 12 months, involving more than 7000 people who had input on everything from interim command and control policies, to new organisation’s identity.
I also want to recognise the unions and associations of fire services sector – the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU), United Fire Brigades Association (UFBA), Forest and Rural Fires Association (FRFANZ), Fire and Rescue Commanders Association (FRCA), and the Public Service Association (PSA) for their involvement and willingness to be part of, and contribute to, this change.
These conversations, the willingness and the good faith that all parties have brought to this process have set a very positive standard for a new organisation where all parties – career, volunteer, rural, and urban are respected for the role they play in delivering the excellent service our communities have come to rely on.
It is essential these conversations, and the partnerships that have been forged during this process, continue from this day forward.
Fire and Emergency NZ is a significant move towards strengthening, and future-proofing our fire and emergency services.
We can only be successful in unifying urban and rural in aid of this goal, if we ourselves are united in our commitment to ensuring the success of Fire and Emergency NZ as envisaged.
More work will be required to achieve this over the next three years, but it will done carefully and in consultation with the sector, to ensure no disruption to current services.
However, I understand Ashburton’s urban and rural firefighters will shortly be operating from the same premises, a brand-new station on Barrett Street – so they are ahead of the game in that respect.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge once again, the people of Fire and Emergency New Zealand for all the work you have done, and continue to do in service of your communities.
I have no doubt, that with the establishment of this new organisation, Ashburton’s firefighters and those all around the country, will be better prepared than ever to continue serving our communities for the next 150 years.