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The New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS, Māori: Whakaratonga Iwi, “Service to the People”) is New Zealand’s main firefighting body, primarily responsible for providing fire protection to urban and peri-urban areas of the country. The NZFS was established on 1 April 1976, after the Fire Service Act 1975 merged the existing local fire boards and fire brigades into a single national fire service under the new New Zealand Fire Service Commission. It is one of the very few fire brigades worldwide to have jurisdiction over an entire country.
The New Zealand Fire Service employs 1,700 career firefighters who man 79 fire stations in the major towns and cities. The remainder of the country is served by 8,300 volunteer firefighters and 360 volunteer fire brigades. In addition, it employs 585 management and support staff, and 76 communications centre staff based in three centres. In 2012/13, the Fire Service attended just over 70,900 incidents, of which 5,430 were structural fires and 16,510 were non-structural fires (e.g. vehicle, vegetation and rubbish fires).
While being a firefighting service first and foremost, the New Zealand Fire Service has also taken responsibility for several other roles, often on the basis of public expectation. These include hazardous material incidents, vehicle extrication, urban rescue, and severe weather and natural disaster response.
The New Zealand Fire Service has defined for itself a Mission, Vision and a Values statement which reflects their business. The New Zealand Fire Service’s key aims, as required by statute, are fire safety and fire prevention.
The New Zealand Fire Service Commission developed a statement of strategic direction in June 1999 which comprised 4 elements:
The NZFS is somewhat unique, internationally, in that it has jurisdiction over the entire country with no division by region or city. It is the result of the New Zealand Fire Service Act (1975) which nationalised the various District-level brigades which had developed across the country.
The New Zealand Fire Service is predominantly configured as an Urban Fire & Rescue Service. The Fire Service Act places responsibility on the NZFS for firefighting in gazetted Urban Fire Districts, totalling about 3% of New Zealand’s land area but covering 85% of the country’s population. The remainder of the land covered by Rural Fire Authorities (RFAs) that act under the Forest and Rural Fires Act. Fire Service brigades respond outside their Districts to deal with structure and rescue incidents, and usually undertake the initial suppression attack on wildland fires.
(Note: The New Zealand Department of Conservation is a RFA with responsibility for fire fighting within recognised State areas, including National Parks, totalling about 30% of the country. The New Zealand Defence Force is responsible for all Defence Areas as defined through the Defence Act. With these two agencies included, the NZFS and territorial local authority RFAs form the bulk of the firefighting capability in New Zealand. There is some contribution from Industrial Fire Brigades (those run by commercial entities, for example forestry companies or Airport Authorities). At present, there are about 80 RFAs, but the number is being reduced through the formation of enlarged Rural Fire Districts.)
The entire organisation reports to the Minister of Internal Affairs, by way of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission. The Commission is composed of five members, and the Minister is required by law to appoint at least one person who is either a fire engineer or has experience as a senior operational fire fighter. The New Zealand Fire Service Commission is also the National Rural Fire Authority.
Beneath the Commission are the positions of Chief Executive and National Commander. Currently both positions are filled by Paul Baxter. Mike Hall, who was formerly the chief of the Queensland Fire Brigades, held these positions up to the end of 2011. Where the Chief Executive does not have operational fire fighting experience, a separate National Commander is appointed to be the most senior operational fire fighter in the country. The National Commander may take control at a particularly serious incident, though this happens very rarely.
The Chief Executive has a number of direct reports, though these are concerned with matters such as human resources and finance rather than operational matters.
The country is broken into five fire regions: Region 1 (Northland/Auckland), Region 2 (Waikato/Bay of Plenty/Gisborne), Region 3 (Lower North Island), Region 4 (South Island north of the Waitaki River), and Region 5 (South Island south of the Waitaki River). Each region is in the charge of a Fire Region Commander. All FRCs report directly to the National Commander, and are promoted from the ranks of operational staff. An FRC may take control of a major incident, and is ultimately responsible for any incident at which they are present even if they are not the Officer-in-Charge.
Reporting to the Fire Region Commander are the Area Commanders and Assistant Area Commanders who manage the 24 areas contained within the regions. The areas are:
Assistant Area Commanders are primarily responsible for managing the career districts, while the Area Commanders have overall responsibility for the area as well as for the volunteer Chief Fire Officers of each volunteer fire districts within their areas . These are the officers who are ultimately entrusted – via the Fire Service Act – with the powers that are exercised at the scene of an incident in order to ‘deal with’ the emergency. These powers are far-reaching – they provide authority to commandeer, demolish or destroy whatever is required in the course of their duties, given no more suitable options.
Each Chief Fire Officer (CFO) will have a Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) and a number of Senior Station Officers (SSOs) and Station Officers (SOs) reporting to them. The minimum number of firefighters required to man an appliance is four – an officer-in-charge, a driver/pump operator, and two firefighters – although most appliances are equipped to carry an extra two firefighters.
An SSO may run in place of an SO as required or at their own discretion. In career districts the SSOs are strategically located to provide a more experienced command officer who is usually placed such that they are responded to most incidents of significance.
The New Zealand Fire Service employs 1,713 professional career firefighters, 444 support staff and 80 communication centre staff.
Each career fire station has a number of watches (shifts). Full-time career stations have four watches, red, brown, blue and green, rotating on a “four-on four-off” schedule: two 10-hour day shifts, followed by two 14-hour night shifts, followed by four days off. Combination career and volunteer stations may have a yellow watch, in which career staff work four 10-hour day shifts per calendar week, having one weekday, Saturday and Sunday off. Non-operational staff are “black watch”, and work a regular 40-hour week.
Career Firefighters respond to 70-80% of the incidents the NZFS attends and protect 80% of the population.
Career firefighters numbers are relatively stable with low turnover. The Fire Service usually recruits twice-yearly, and can receive up to 700 applications for just 48 positions on each intake, making competition high and job prospects poor compared to other industries. Initial training for career firefighters is done on an intensive 12 week residential course at the national training center in Rotorua that covers not only traditional firefighting subjects but others required of a modern professional Fire and Rescue Service. Topics such as; urban search and rescue (USAR), motor vehicle extrication and hazardous materials.
Career firefighters provide the NZFS personnel that staff the nations specialized USAR Response teams. Additional specialized training is provided for these personnel, however all paid career firefighters are trained to a baseline USAR ‘Responder’ level.
Career firefighters make up only 20 percent of the New Zealand Fire Service’s firefighting manpower; the remaining 80 percent of firefighters are volunteers, who receive no payment for their time or labour. The 8,300 volunteer firefighters belong to the 360 volunteer fire brigades, mainly serving small towns, communities and outer suburbs which career stations do not cover. Volunteer firefighters respond to 20-30% of all incidents the New Zealand Fire Service attends.
Volunteer firefighters have diverse backgrounds. Around 14 percent of volunteer firefighters are women, compared to just 2.8 percent in the career ranks.
The minimum age to become a volunteer firefighter in the New Zealand Fire Service is 16, although those under 18 require parental consent. Initial training is done within the local volunteer fire brigade at their weekly training nights and culminates in a seven-day residential recruit course, normally held at the National Training Centre (NTC) in Rotorua or the Woolston Training Centre in Christchurch. Training includes hose drills, ladder drills, portable pumps, and breathing apparatus use (BA), which is carried out in BATB (Breathing Apparatus Training Building) and RFTB (Realistic Fire Training Building) simulators. The BATB is a gas-fired training facility and the RFTB is a live fire scenario.
Volunteer units within the NZFS organisation also provide support services over and above the role of the Firefighter. Various Operational Support Units (OSUs) manned by volunteers are attached to Fire Districts and Brigades across New Zealand, which provide non-firefighting assistance at large-scale incidents. These include traffic and crowd control, scene cordons and lighting, basic first aid, salvage, communications and logistics, and even catering.
A new colour scheme for helmets was introduced in August 2013, and rolled out in late 2013. Previously, yellow helmets were issued to Firefighters and Station Officers, white helmets to Chief Fire Officers, Area Commanders and Assistant National Commanders, with markings being the only discerning features. The changes saw Station Officer helmets change to red (trainee firefighter helmets, which were red, changed to green), and Area Commander and Assistant National Commander helmets change to silver. The change was to make it easier to identify the command structure at a large-scale, multi-agency incident.
|National Commander (NC)||silver crossed sword and baton below a crown||black|
|Deputy National Commander (DNC)||silver crossed sword and baton below an impeller||black|
|Assistant National Commander (ANC)||three impellers trefoil below a crown||silver with two blue stripes|
|Area Commander (AC)||one impeller below a crown||silver with one blue stripe|
|Assistant Area Commander (AAC)||three impellers||silver|
|Chief Fire Officer (CFO)||impeller between two ferns below two impellers||white with two blue stripes|
|Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO)||impeller between two ferns below one impeller||white with one blue stripe|
|Senior Station Officer (SSO)||two impellers||red with two blue stripes|
|Station Officer (SO)||one impeller||red with one blue stripe|
|Senior Firefighter (SFF)||two bars||yellow with two red stripes|
|Qualified Firefighter (QFF)||one bar||yellow with one red stripe|
|Trainee Firefighter (TFF)||plain||fluro-green|
The New Zealand Fire Service is first and foremost a firefighting service, as made obvious by the name. However, it is also increasingly called upon for other emergencies where firefighting skills and tools are helpful, including hazardous material incidents, motor vehicle accidents, natural disasters, and medical emergencies.
In the year to 30 June 2013, the Fire Service attended 70,900 callouts. Of those, 7.7 percent were for structural fires, 23.3 percent were for non-structural fires, 32.8 percent for non-fire emergencies, and 36.2 percent were false alarms. In the same period, 38 people died in 34 fatal fires.
Examples of non-fire emergencies the Fire Service attend include:
These additional areas have led the NZFS to begin the process of rebranding; it is now actively promoted as being the New Zealand Fire and Rescue Service as this is seen as a more accurate representation of their role in the community. At a government level the much-expanded role of the New Zealand Fire Service has been recognised, and as such the Fire Service Act 1975 (the legislation under which the service operates) is currently under review, with a view to replacing the Act with newer legislation which better supports their work.
The New Zealand Fire Service operates around 850 fire appliances, including conventional pumping appliances and specialist appliances, and 330 support vehicles. Fire appliances are given a three- or four-digit number for identification; the first two digits specify the appliance’s resident station (numbers may be repeated between areas), while the last one or two digits specify its function. An example is “Newlands 291” – 29 indicates the appliance is resident at Newlands fire station in Wellington, and 1 indicates its function is a pump.
Every New Zealand Fire Service fire station has at least one pumping appliance. The basic appliance is the Pump Tender, which is primarily equipped for fires. Typical equipment includes a pump (normally driven off the appliance engine via a power take-off); a high pressure hose reel for small fires and initial attack; a supply of high-pressure and low-pressure hoses for larger fires; fire-fighting foam; a standpipe and bar for accessing fire hydrants, and suction hoses for accessing non-reticulated water supplies; forcible entry tools such as Halligan bars, axes and sledgehammers; aluminium and wooden ladders; and a first aid kit with an automated external defibrillator.
The two major variations on the Pump Tender are the Pump Aerial Tender and the Pump Rescue Tender. The Pump Aerial Tender has an additional aerial ladder and monitor for high-rise and aerial attacks. The Pump Rescue Tender, in addition to firefighting equipment, carries extra equipment primarily for motor vehicle accidents and vehicle extrication. Typical equipment includes hydraulic rescue tools (aka “The Jaws of Life”), vehicle stabilisation equipment, and winches.
Most new pumping appliances for the New Zealand Fire Service are manufactured by the Fraser Engineering Group in Lower Hutt, and based on Iveco or Scania chassis. Other manufacturers and chassis have been used in the past.
There are four sizes of pumping appliances, named Type 1 through Type 4:
Pump Tender identification numbers ends in 1, 2 or 3 (e.g. Hastings 561); Pump Aerial Tender identification numbers end in 4 (e.g. Invercargill 214); and Pump Rescue Tender identification numbers end in 7 (e.g. Greytown 647).
Career staff appliances may also carry more specialized items used for industrial rescue, light USAR and high-angle line rescue. In some areas, these are carried on separate Rescue Tenders or Emergency Tenders which do not have pumping capabilities.
Additional specialist appliances are usually strategically located in each fire district:
The NZFS works closely with the NZ Police in many respects – a key one of those is that the three Communications Centres which coordinate the Fire Service response across NZ are co located with their Police Equivalents in Auckland,Wellington and Christchurch. The radio network utilised by the Fire Service for its nationwide coverage is provided and supported by the Police, although most urban areas provide for an exclusive Fire-only radio channel or channels.
In rural areas, the channel may be shared between both services. Generally this is an acceptable arrangement, though when either the Police or the Fire Service are particularly busy in an area with shared radio services, this can cause the other service some grief. In contrast, the fact that Police have ready and direct access to the Fire Communications Centre is occasionally of some value in terms of inter-agency liaison.
At the scene of an incident, VHF and UHF simplex frequencies are generally used. These are usually common between NZFS, NRFA, DoC and NZDF firefighters and discrete from the Police. Access to shared liaison channels is also provided, allowing for Ambulance, Police, Fire and other resources (for example aircraft that may be called upon to assist in firefighting) to coordinate.
The New Zealand Fire Service was one of the key developers of the Coordinated Incident Management System which is now in widespread use throughout the NZ Emergency Services environment. This provides for a common set of terminology and procedures which lends itself to multi-agency incidents.