24 September 2015
Four months ago I began a public consultation process on the future of New Zealand’s Fire Service. The reason was simple – the basic structure of the Fire Service has not changed since the late 1940s, despite its nationalisation in 1975. Yet, in that time, the nature and volume of its work has changed considerably. So there is a need to ensure that the Fire Service continues to be fit for purpose.
New Zealand’s Fire Services – urban and rural – are distinct, in that over 80% of our firefighters are volunteers. That is not about to change. Therefore, alongside maintaining the position of our paid firefighters, ensuring the future viability of the volunteer force is critical to the future of the Fire Service.
During the consultation period I attended over 40 meetings up and down the country with members of the public, firefighters, and special interest groups. In addition over 250 detailed written submissions were received by the review team. The results of all these consultations have now been collated. Taken together, they provide a strong mandate for change to a modern, integrated Fire Service, capable of meeting community needs well into the 21st century.
Although a clear preference has emerged for a unified national service, there is also a deep feeling that it needs to be bolstered by a strong regional influence, provided through a series of regional advisory committees. The model we have therefore developed is a deliberate response to the message we received that while people understand the need for a unified service, they also want to ensure there is a strengthened role for community engagement.
Earlier this week I met again with a large group of stakeholders to report back on where we have got to. They expressed support for the direction being proposed, and a real commitment to making it work.
We are still working on the best option for funding the new Fire Service, with ongoing discussions with interested parties but I am confident we will make a great deal of progress over the next couple of weeks or so. Now, of course, there is no perfect solution here, but I have been struck throughout the consultation process by the pragmatism and positive engagement of so many. All this bodes extremely well for the future and reinforces my view that this is the time to progress the changes so many have but dreamed of for so long.
I intend to take a paper to Cabinet in the next few weeks proposing a new organisational and financial structure for the Fire Service. Legislation to give effect to the new system should be introduced early next year, and my intention is that the new Fire Service be launched by the middle of 2017.
I have been encouraged by and am thankful for the input and support that the review has received so far from Ministers, firefighters, local government and community leaders, and key industry groups. We all have a major stake in making this reform work and ensuring that the new New Zealand Fire Service can carry out its role as our premier emergency service effectively and skilfully into the future.
After all, our communities depend on it and rightfully expect no less.