Ian McKelvie on Fire

Ruapehu Bulletin, King Country Ohakune 20 July 2022

Ruapehu's Member of Parliament Ian McKelvie presents his views on the current state of fire and emergency services: The Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017 combined urban and rural fire services into a single, integrated fire and emergency services organisation Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) with a mandate to perform a wide range of services for communities.

Five years down the track and the organisation is at breaking point after years of mismanagement, poor spending decisions and a problematic culture; while devalued, volunteer and career firefighters are suffering the effects of a crisis in the ranks of their governing body.

It is unacceptable that our firefighters risk their lives every day but feel unsupported and unheard by their workplace; and when career firefighters in our major cities are being forced to take strike action to protest extreme overtime, mental trauma and financial hardship.

Volunteer firefighters play a vital role in our rural and provincial communities. But it's hard to recruit and train volunteers with the demands that are placed on them, and when they receive an honorarium of just $300 per year.

Their numbers are dwindling. Many rural fire brigades have been hit hard by vaccine mandates, which preclude unvaccinated volunteers from training or working. They can call into the station precinct and have a beer with other volunteers but they can't get suited up and help put out a fire or attend the scene of an accident. The Hunterville, Turakina, Mangaweka and Taihape volunteer brigades have all lost crew because of mandates. Ohura has been forced to close.

According to a local Rangitikei Rural Brigade Controller, when FENZ first took over, the new system seemed good with great communication and support. But it didn't last.

Individual volunteer brigades have tried to communicate this: they've had meetings, received minutes but they haven't received any hope of improvements or change.

Rural firefighters feel underpaid and undervalued. The men and women on the ground definitely have their hearts in it, they're committed and doing the best they can but they're swamped and literally run off their feet.

There's a sense of camaraderie and a real community spirit that comes from working together for the good of your community.

But that soon dissolves when your governing body has a broken culture and they're wasting money. FENZ has employed 200 more office staff in the past five years and just 47 operational staff. You can't fight a fire from the 12th floor of an office building in central Wellington.

FENZ has a broken culture. The men and women who put themselves on the line to protect our families, homes and communities are desperate for support, and FENZ seems unable to respond.