Less than half of Fire Service jobs are fires

By Jordan Bond

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Less than half of Rotorua fire service callouts were for actual fires last year. Photo/FILE
Less than half of Rotorua fire service callouts were for actual fires last year. Photo/FILE

Rotorua firefighters attended more non-fire events last year than actual fires.

The figures obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post reveal the true nature of officers' work as the service is overhauled for the first time in 40 years to reflect the "dramatically" different service it provides.

The New Zealand Fire Service, National Rural Fire Authority, and more than 40 Rural Fire Authorities are merging in a $300 million transition to form a unified organisation - Fire and Emergency New Zealand - from July 1next year.

This includes Rotorua fire station, and is an attempt to bring the service into the 21st century, says Fire Service chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter.

He said the Fire Service's current legislation dated back to 1975 - much of which was carried over from the 1940s - and did not reflect the modern challenges it faced."It's well past its use-by date.

The firefighter's role has changed dramatically from 40 years ago, from predominantly just fighting fires to doing all of the other emergencies and [activities] that are required."

Rotorua fire station attended 954 real incidents in the 2016 financial year. Only 432 - 45.3 per cent - were for actual fires, while 418 were for rescue, emergency, medical or hazardous emergencies, 87 special service events, and 11 natural disasters.

It also attended 434 false alarms.

Rotorua Central Lakes area commander Graham Fuller said the change wouldn't really be a change.

"In all honesty with what we are already doing within the community there is no change."

He said the local brigade had been working with St John for medical responses and had been responding to other calls, ranging from civil defence to weather-related incidents, for some time.

"There is no change for the people on the ground, it's about legislation and the amalgamation," Mr Fuller said.

"The updated legislation will support us in our broad range of jobs." The two next busiest stations in the area - Whakatane and Kawerau - attended 122 fires, 138 rescue, emergency or medical situations, and 170 false calls.

Mr Baxter said the act would give the new organisation the funding and legal authorisation to do what the Fire Service hadbeen tasked with previously.

"In a lot of respects, the changes to the legislation are catching up with the demands and needs of the community by providing an updated mandate." He said the transition, which was progressing through Parliament, had been hailed by the majority of those in the affected organisations, but hada few kinks to be ironed out.

It was a big task, especially with the usual day-to-day incidents still to attend.

"It's a very important aspect of our organisation to make sure our 'business as usual' emergency responses continue uninterrupted. The truck keeps going down the road while we're trying to change the tyre, basically."

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne said the funding for the transition and the organisation's new responsibilities would come from an increase to the fire levy, which was paid on insurance for contents, property and motor vehicles.

The levy will be extended to also include third-party motor vehicle insurance.

- Additional reporting Kyra Dawson

- Rotorua Daily Post

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