Concerns raised at firefighter's conference

Photo / NZPA
Photo / NZPA

Dwindling volunteer numbers and a rising number of non-emergency medical callouts were some of the key concerns raised at an annual firefighter's conference.

The United Fire Brigades' Association's annual conference was held in Auckland today, with hundreds of representatives from the country's 482 fire stations gathering to discuss their evolving roles and marvel at new fire fighting technology.

Association chairman Rick Braddock said recent concerns raised by volunteer firefighters had fallen on deaf ears.

"How much extra work volunteer brigades can honestly be asked to do? Medical call outs for example - some of us are keen to help if we are equipped, trained and resourced.

"But for some of us, it just might be the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of extra hours required to volunteer.

"We all have families too. Is it our responsibility to do non urgent medical call outs. Is it what we thought we were signing on to do?"

Mr Braddock cited a Fire Research Report written by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2009, which found the fire service needed to promote a strong volunteer base and recommended a review of the organisation.

Mr Braddock's speech was met with loud applause from the delegates.

Association past president and Laingholm chief fire officer Graeme Booth told APNZ it had become very common for volunteer firefighters to attend medical callouts.

"St John and Wellington Free [Ambulance service] simply cannot cover the escalating number of medical calls that are happening in this country.

"That's going to go on increasing because of an aging population.

"The aging population is putting more and more strain on the health system including the ambulance service and in many communities, including mine, we're now picking up a lot of the medical calls."

While the fire service did not run a passenger transport service, they carried defibrillators to jolt patients back to life and provided a first response service, Mr Booth said.

Combined ambulance and fire service vehicles - with both a water pump on board and patient carrying capabilities - were being considered for some smaller communities, he said.

Fire Service Commissioner Wyatt Creech said the association was getting a 12 per cent increase in funding this year which was "way above" what other government departments had received.

The fire service was funded by levies paid through home and building insurance, which were reducing as insurance companies found ways to dodge the levies and pay less, he said.

More stringent rules for the seismic strengthening of fire stations - which had to be 180 per cent of the building code - meant many stations had to be rebuilt, Mr Creech said.

However, collaboration was being considered between the three emergency services which were looking at operating from the same building in some areas, he said.

Association patron Garry Stanley said the fire service would not exist without the 11,000 volunteers represented by the association.

The conference was held to the ensure the rights of volunteer firefighters were upheld, he said.

"Any volunteer firefighter will help anyone at anytime, they're the greatest people in the world."

- APNZ

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