Volunteer firefighters concerned about extra work

Photo / NZPA
Photo / NZPA

Dwindling volunteer numbers, a rising number of non-emergency medical callouts and excessive interference from the New Zealand Fire Service's (NZFS) head office were some of the key concerns raised at an annual firefighter's conference.

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

UFBA 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.

A major disagreement between the association and the fire service this year centred on who could and couldn't be elected as the association's president and vice-president, Mr Braddock said.

The fire service were trying to prevent employees above a certain rank being elected, despite the roles being clearly ceremonial in nature, he said.

"Their actions are rubbish and they are wrong."

The Bill of Rights gave everyone the right to the freedom of association, he said.

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

Fire service Commissioner Wyatt Creech said the UFBA 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.

UFBA 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."

UFBA past president and Laingholm chief fire officer Graeme Booth said recruitment was a massive issue for volunteer firefighters.

"A lot of smaller communities, they've lost government departments, they're depopulating.

"What tends to happen is that there is no infrastructure, people have to leave the community and in many instances they have to commute out of the community to get work, so the trouble is, when there's a fire everybody's gone and a lot of brigades are struggling during the day."

The Kaingaroa Forest fire station, 50km south of Rotorua, was down to about three members, Mr Booth said.


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