The Government is reviewing who is covered by the vaccination requirements which have led to more than 30 volunteer firefighters quitting in 10 Mid North brigades alone.
The hint that the rules could ease comes as Northland firefighters face huge pressure due to a high number of callouts combined with an exodus of volunteers due to vaccine mandates.
Last week the Advocate revealed some Northland firefighters feared they would no longer be able to respond to emergencies such as crashes and house fires once their brigades lost a second tranche of volunteers in coming weeks.
An informal survey of 10 Mid North brigades found 32 volunteers had left because they had not been vaccinated. More were set to go in May and June because they had been double-vaxxed but not boosted.
The Government's Covid-19 Health Order requires anyone working within 2m of a health professional for more than 15 minutes to be vaccinated. That has been applied to firefighters because they often work alongside ambulance staff.
Firefighters' first-dose deadline was November 29, with the second dose due by January 14. The booster deadline is six months after the second dose.
Time was expected to be up in May and June for most firefighters who haven't had the booster.
Ōkaihau and Kerikeri, which has so far lost seven volunteers with four more likely to go, are among the worst-hit brigades.
Following inquiries by the Advocate, Minister of Internal Affairs Jan Tinetti said the Government was currently considering refining the definitions in the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 with the intention of narrowing the roles it covered.
"This may change how the Health Order impacts some operational Fire and Emergency personnel, both volunteer and career."
In the meantime firefighters had to keep complying with the Health Order, she said.
Tinetti, who is responsible for Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ), said the organisation had recently revised vaccination requirements for roles outside the Health Order.
That means unvaccinated personnel can attend fire stations for training or social occasions — but they can't go out on fire calls.
Tinetti said FENZ had robust contingency plans so fire brigades could respond to events as they arose.
Those plans included support from neighbouring brigades and relocation of resources.
FENZ had a process for re-engaging career firefighters who had left as a result of the Health Order. A similar process was being developed for volunteers, she said.
Tinetti said she had been advised by FENZ that 91 of its 10,211 volunteers had informed their chief fire officer they had resigned since the Health Order came into force.
"While a number of these may be for reasons related to compliance with the Health Order, volunteers do not always relay their reasons for leaving the organisation," she said.
FENZ earlier told the Advocate the number of resignations Northland-wide was 10.
However, that is less than the number known to have left Kerikeri and Ōkaihau alone.
Last week FENZ Northland manager Wipari Henwood told the Advocate the situation was driving some firefighters to despair.
"Where there is despair it's because it's putting a lot of burden on the ones who are double-vaxxed and boosted ... there's more pressure on them to man the trucks and get out there and support the community," he said.
"The passion of the volunteers to support their community is still there but they feel like they have one hand tied behind their backs. They can't see an end in sight and that's driving some of the desperation."
A senior firefighter, who didn't want to be identified, told the Advocate there had already been incidents in recent months when larger brigades had to travel up to two hours each way to provide back-up for small brigades that were short on volunteers.
He feared soon even some of the larger brigades would be unable to respond.
"During the day, come the end of June, we may not be able to get a truck out the door. That's how serious it is."
He also worried about the strain on remaining firefighters and the effects on their jobs, families and mental health.