The Fire and Emergency New Zealand Bill has passed its third reading in Parliament, fittingly on International Firefighters' Day.
The bill repeals the Fire Service Act 1975 and the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977, to provide a single, unified fire services organisation.
The bill marks the most significant change to New Zealand’s fire legislation in 70 years. It creates a single fire organisation – Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), and brings together New Zealand’s rural, urban, paid and volunteer firefighters for the first time.
FENZ is to be given expanded functions, including call-outs to road accidents, natural disasters, and medical emergencies. The levy (paid on insurance for property) becomes the principal source of funds, replacing a variety of funding sources for rural fire services and includes insurance for material damage as well as fire damage. The levy on motor vehicle insurance is extended to include third party insurance. The bill provides for three-yearly public consultation on levy levels.
The bill also provides for:
- An updated offences and penalties regime, including a new infringement offence scheme;
- Removal of powers to recover the cost of rural fires;
- New powers for managing hazardous substances incidents;
- New measures to encourage compliance among levy-payers and to protect the integrity of the levy;
- New powers for firefighters to enter premises to investigate the causes of fires and to take a sample or samples of objects for analysis.
Volunteers will move into a direct relationship with FENZ, and there is provision for independent advocacy services and support for FENZ volunteers.
Long time coming says minister
“This Bill, and the reform it represents, has been a very long time in the making. It will ensure New Zealand has a modern, fit for purpose, and well-funded fire service,” says Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne.
“It recognises the vital roles of volunteer and paid firefighters, the importance of community, while addressing long standing issues such as the underfunding of rural fire,”
Fire and Emergency New Zealand will be established as of 1 July 2017, with full integration expected to take four years.
“This is a huge change process, and it is critical we do it right. While we will amalgamate on 1 July 2017, we will work steadily towards full integration over the next four years. This will allow a measured and well thought out integration of the many brigades and fire forces throughout New Zealand.
“It has been a long journey to get to this point, and all those who have been involved should be proud to have been part of this milestone for the fire services of New Zealand. The involvement, passion, knowledge and enthusiasm of firefighters, their communities and stakeholders have made this reform possible,” he says.