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HomeNew ZealandVolunteer firefighters say lack of local plans causing training and resource issues

Volunteer firefighters say lack of local plans causing training and resource issues

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Fire and Emergency has had five years to get local emergency plans for dealing with fires and floods and local committees in place.
Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Volunteer firefighters say years of delays in local emergency planning for fires and floods are getting in the way of equipping and training them.

Fire and Emergency has had five years to get the plans and local committees in place – and must do so by law – but 90 percent of the population is still not covered.

The government says it is surprisingly slow but is moving the right way.

Bill Butzbach, head of the United Fire Brigades’ Association covering 12,000 volunteers, has never seen a local plan from FENZ, though it should have one for each of the 16 local areas, and despite work beginning on them in late 2017.

“I have not [seen any]… I’m not aware of any,” he said.

He called for the urgent appointment of nine more local committees, to add to the existing seven that cover only low-population areas, to provide full coverage as required by law.

They were “crucial” to getting “scarce resources tailored” to unique communities, he said.

‘”These delays in progressing local planning mean that some volunteer brigades have not been able to be trained, equipped or adequately resourced to meet the needs and risks of their communities – and instead, must rely on their local management’s discretion.”

Local communities tended to “just get on with it”, but national coordination would be a lot more efficient at “getting the best bang for the buck”, Butzbach said.

The Wellington area does not have a local plan.

But Porirua mayor Anita Baker, after months of concerns, did get to sit down with FENZ just yesterday.

“I had some concerns about the staffing levels in Porirua, and the station – the leaking roof – and the fact that Porirua firefighters were having to cover other parts of the region,” she told RNZ.

She got some reasonable answers about future resourcing, but with flooding response and all the new work firefighters were called to do, they could not afford planning to be patchy.

“It’s disturbing Porirua doesn’t have a plan, or possibly the region doesn’t have a plan, and I said FENZ should come and speak to the mayoral forum so that as a region we can all get on top of this.

“Everything FENZ should be doing would be with all of us.”

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti said the 2017 law allowed for time to set up local plans.

FENZ had faced pandemic delays and a change of executives that needed to “bed in”, but she said she did not want that to hold up local planning.

More local committees would be set up next year, Tinetti said.

The Green Party is calling for a review of FENZ’s overall management.

MP Jan Logie said the local plan disconnect was a clear reason why, and obvious on the ground at 14 fire stations she visited.

“What I’ve heard was a remarkably consistent message at each station, that FENZ are mismanaging the organisation, that they’re not reflecting the needs of the communities.”

She cited failing equipment, Auckland services not expanding in line with population growth, and inadequate integration of professional and volunteer teams as symptoms of local plans missing.

FENZ is locked in a long-running industrial dispute with firefighters including over resourcing.

It said last night in a statement that “local planning is a process”.

It had said on Tuesday evening it would provide a copy of a local plan to RNZ on Wednesday. It did not do this.

It was “refreshing these processes and plans to improve consistency across the country” by July 2023, FENZ said.

“Our key focus is to continually evolve local planning to bring processes at all levels together under an integrated approach.”

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