SPEECH: Hard Earned Respect Must Not Be Lost By Amalgamation
HARD-EARNED RESPECT MUST NOT BE LOST BY AMALGAMATION
Thank you for inviting me here today.
When surveys are held for the occupations most respected, firefighters are always at or near the top with nurses or paramedics.
In New Zealand we tend to place our faith in the people who save lives, care for us, protect us and our property.
Firefighters do many, if not all of these things.
Some of you are professional firefighters but most of you are volunteers.
Our professional firefighters do a great job.
So do our volunteers.
If ever you want to find the heart of a community, you need only look to your local fire brigade.
The mechanic, butcher, teacher, contractor, shopkeeper, farmer all come together to help their community be ready for any difficult time.
You don’t do it for glamour, glory or money.
No doubt you have been called out at every hour of the day and night rushing out to fires and situations most people have no great understanding of.
Part of your work these days is also attending traffic accidents as medical first responders where you encounter and deal with the great challenges such tragic events require.
Also you can be involved directing traffic until the police arrive.
If anything your workload is increasing.
Firefighters in small communities are called upon to be more than that.
You are now on the cusp on a major change for fire services in this country.
From July 1 the mainly urban NZ Fire Service, will merge with the National Rural Fire Authority and more than 140 other fire services to create Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ).
Around 12,000 volunteers will be linked into this new main organisation.
The government and all the other political parties support the amalgamation.
New Zealand First doesn’t.
The FENZ Transition Project as it is called is promising a great deal.
They say some volunteers feel “the poor cousins” to career firefighters.
They intend fixing it with extra funding for training, support and equipment.
Career firefighters will have more career options, says FENZ and there will be better all-round co-ordination for our fire services all through the country.
We could be wrong, but it all sounds too good to be true.
CONCERNS FOR VOLUNTEERS
When the United Fire Brigades Association of NZ (started in 1878) and the Forest and Rural Fire Association NZ made a submission on the FENZ plans they said concerns abounded for volunteers.
The two organisations said a too big a leap of faith was needed by volunteers and volunteer brigades in the new relationship with FENZ.
There are also many other concerns over such things as service delivery framework and chain of command.
Fire regions, fire areas and fire districts are already clearly defined but how the chain of command is to operate has not been defined.
The new structure will have local committees but we have been told the process of deciding who sits on these new committees hasn’t been worked out, nor have the committees’ powers and responsibilities been defined.
Why wasn’t this worked out from the outset with the public consulted then, not now when the amalgamation has been given the green light?
LACK OF ENGAGEMENT
NZ First was advised that an invitation was sent to the FENZ Transition Board and the NZ Fire Service Board to attend your conference and it was declined.
That is hugely disappointing.
This is not a good sign of engagement or consultation with firefighters.
FENZ says it wants to enable volunteers to communicate directly with them.
They could have done that by turning up here.
WHY NZ FIRST OPPOSED THE CHANGES
Why has New Zealand First opposed this new amalgamation?
• It is supposed to make things smoother more affordable and create efficiencies but in reality requires a 40% increase in revenue collected - $80 million more.
This cost will be passed on to people who insure their properties and commercial owners who are now faced with an uncapped levy.
• The levy system for our Fire Service was originally put in place as a short term measure. We believe funding for the Fire Service should come from general taxation as more people benefit than only those who have insured their properties.
• International evidence shows that amalgamation of rural and urban fire services have dire consequences including extreme safety concerns and a disintegration of the specialist skills of rural services. e.g. Ferguson report – Western Australia; Malone report - Queensland.
• Just when we thought all was completed Minister Peter Dunne announced that perhaps Civil Defence should be included also in this amalgamation – that is shoddy planning.
Attracting volunteer firefighters has been a challenge for some years.
That makes it important that FENZ ensures all firefighters, both volunteers and full-timers, are, as they promise, fully supported.
This must include helping firefighters deal with the physical, mental and emotional stress of the job.
The hope must be also that the greatly respected place our volunteer brigades have in New Zealand is not put at risk by this amalgamation.
The wonderful relationship local brigades have built over decades with their communities and for some of them, for over a century, must not be lost.