Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Long overdue law change for fire fighters

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A long overdue law change will give fire fighters a legal mandate to carry out the vital emergency work they already do on a daily basis.

Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain has indicated he will act on the recommendations of an independent review, released in February, which said there needed to be an immediate change to the decades-old legislation governing the Fire Service.

The law as it stands covers only the work of fighting fires - which means the Fire Service is not funded for its other emergency roles including car crashes, rescues, hazardous substances, severe weather events, and urban search and rescue operations.

The review panel found firefighters could be held personally liable if something went wrong while they were carrying out non-fire duties.

Mr Tremain said the role of the Fire Service had changed radically since the legislation was introduced in the 1975, and reform was long overdue.

"The Government will update legislation to mandate firefighters to provide a full range of fire and non-fire services.

This will also ensure that firefighters are protected from liability when attending non-fire callouts.''

The law change would also acknowledge the role of volunteers in the Fire Service, and require the Fire Service Commission to actively provide for the sustainability of the volunteer base.

Mr Tremain said further changes would enable a more flexible governance model for the commission.

"There have been a number of unsuccessful previous attempts to change Fire Service legislation and reform is long overdue.

"It is my hope that the work of the independent Fire Review Panel, and extensive consultation with stakeholders following its report, has enabled consensus on key issues.''

Mr Tremain said the legislation would be introduced before the end of the year.

Further legislation, to be introduced next year, would provide for a "fair and sustainable funding base'' for the Fire Service through levies.

However, Mr Tremain did not release details around what changes would be made.

The review panel recommended lifting the cap on how much of a home's insured value was subject to levies.

Homeowners currently have to pay a levy of 7.6 cents per $100 of a property's insured value, up to a cap of $100,000 - a total levy of up to $76 per year.

The panel recommended increasing the cap while reducing the levy rate, to reflect increases in property values over the last two decades.

Among the options was to increase the cap to $250,000 while decreasing the levy rate to 4.6 cents per $100. That means the maximum levy would increase to $115 a year - $39 more than homeowners have to pay at present.

Residential property owners contributed $118.5 million in levies last year, which is more than a third of the Fire Service's total funding.

- APNZ

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