Fire Service structure
In 2009 the Fire Service was organised into eight regions with 346 urban fire districts. These were served by 440 stations, of which more than three-quarters were voluntary fire brigades. In 2008 there were 1,655 career fire fighters, and 7,646 volunteers. The busiest stations were those in the cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Each fire region has a manager, and the service is headed by a chief executive who is also national commander of operations. The Fire Service is governed by the New Zealand Fire Service Commission, a Crown entity whose five members are appointed by and report to the minister of internal affairs.
The Fire Service is funded by a levy, which is included in all insurance contracts covering property (houses, contents and vehicles) against loss by fire.
Role of the Fire Service
Under the Fire Service Act 1975, the Fire Service is responsible for fighting fires and promoting fire safety and prevention. It also responds to other emergencies. In 2007, 73,333 incidents were attended by the Fire Service, but only 24,279 were fires. The remainder were events such as chemical spills and road accidents. Firefighters can be called on for a wide range of tasks, from rescuing cats caught up tall trees, to securing roofs blown loose in storms.
Other firefighting forces
In addition to New Zealand Fire Service brigades, there are special firefighting units. All major airports have crash fire services. There are also several hundred industrial fire brigades at freezing works, timber and steel mills, oil refineries and large factories where fire is a risk.
United against fires
A large rural population, poverty and substandard housing contributed to a spate of fatal house fires in Northland in 2002. This prompted a fire prevention programme called Te Kotahitanga. Local people were trained as ‘fire safety advisors’ and visited homes, installing smoke alarms, providing safety advice and drawing up fire escape plans.
Under the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977, the New Zealand Fire Service Commission also acts as the National Rural Fire Authority. However, the rural firefighting system is different from the urban system. Some 90 rural fire authorities are responsible for fighting and preventing vegetation fires on rural and forest land. They include the Department of Conservation for conservation land, the New Zealand Defence Force for defence land, rural fire district committees for specially gazetted areas, and local territorial authorities for all other rural land.
Sometimes New Zealand rural firefighters go to help their overseas counterparts, for example during bushfires in Australia in 2009 and 2019.
In 2008 there were around 3,000 volunteer rural fire fighters, and costs were covered by affected landowners and the Rural Fire Fighting Fund.
In 2004 a review of fire legislation began. It aimed to recognise the changing role of the Fire Service in helping with civil defence and other emergency rescue work, and to better align the urban and rural fire systems. By 2008 there had been public consultation on proposed law changes.
In 2006 the Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations replaced earlier regulations. From then, the Fire Service helped review fire-safety designs before they were given building consents.
In the early 2000s the Fire Service expanded its campaigns to raise public awareness of fire dangers. In 2001 the Firewise education programme was launched to teach year one and two primary school students and year seven and eight intermediate students about fire safety. Television advertisements targeted a broader audience. A 2003 commercial about the speed at which fire spreads won a Gold Award at the Cannes International Advertising Awards.