Rural fire forces and provincial volunteer brigades will be significantly affected by a suite of recommendations by the Fire Services Review Panel which is looking to change the current Fire Services and Forest and Rural Fire legislation. While the recommendations are wide-ranging, two are of particular interest to farmers.
The terms of reference for the review has identified a disconnect between the fire service and rural fire forces' mandate under current legislation, which essentially stops at fire responses, despite the increasing practice of fire personnel responding to non-fire emergencies, such as traffic accidents.
In response, the panel has recommended that the Fire Service Commission be mandated and made responsible as first-responders to a much broader array of emergencies, including, but not limited to, road traffic emergencies, search and rescue, and animal rescues.
The report recommends the establishment of a register that makes clear the emergencies that the fire service attends and that the Fire Services Commission be empowered to add or subtract from the register without new legislation.
In practice, the Commission would discharge this function through the urban fire service, which includes small town volunteer brigades.
In areas where the urban fire service is geographically unable to respond in a timely manner, the Fire Service Commission would be able to accredit appropriate bodies and fund their training and responses.
In practice, the intention of the panel is that accreditation would likely go to the local Rural Fire Authority, which would have the right of first refusal in its given area, although other agencies such as roading contractors could be accredited.
The panel also addressed the advancement of the Government's agenda of enlarging rural fire districts to simplify rural fire management and capture efficiencies.
Amalgamation of smaller Rural Fire Authorities have been under way since 2008, however, the pace has not been as great as expected and the review was tasked with accelerating the programme.
Currently, the National Rural Fire Authority has worked as a facilitator and, in some cases, provided funds to promote Rural Fire Authority mergers, but the process had been largely driven locally. While the panel identified local buy-in as important, it nevertheless recommended the Minister of Internal Affairs, Chris Tremain, be empowered to compel amalgamation at his discretion from 12 months after the enactment of new legislation.
Federated Farmers is engaging with the Minister as he considers the recommendations and will seek members' feedback before new legislation is released.