Only half of fire service jobs actual fires

By Jordan Bond

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Half of Whanganui fire station callouts last year were for actual fires. Photo/FILE
Half of Whanganui fire station callouts last year were for actual fires. Photo/FILE

Whanganui fire station attended almost as many non-fire related incidents last year as actual fires.

Figures obtained by the Wanganui Chronicle 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 1, 2017.

This included Whanganui fire station, and is an attempt to bring the service into the 21st century, said the fire service's chief executive and national commander Paul Baxter.

The fire service's current legislation dated back to 1975 - much of which was carried over from the 1940s - and doesn't reflect the modern challenges it faces, Mr Baxter said.

"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."

Whanganui Fire Station attended 706 real incidents in the 2016 financial year. Just over half - 361 - were for actual fires, while 282 were for rescue, emergency, medical or hazardous emergencies, and 53 were special service calls.

It also attended 302 false alarms.

Mr Baxter said the act would give the new organisation the funding and legal authorisation to do what the fire service has been 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," Mr Baxter said.

Mr Baxter said the transition, which was progressing through Parliament, had been hailed by the majority of those in the affected organisations, but has a few kinks to be ironed out.

He said the transition 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.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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