Guy: United Fire Brigades’ Association Conference

Speech – New Zealand Government

This is actually the second time this year I’ve addressed your annual conference. In February I spoke to you in Christchurch, and the change in timing means here we are again.Nathan Guy

28 November, 2010

Speech to United Fire Brigades’ Association Conference

Thank you for the invitation to speak this morning.

To acknowledge:

• Ross Ditmer, President of the UFBA

• Emrys Evans, Patron of the UFBA

• Chairman Peter Drummond

• Chairperson of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission – Dame Margaret Bazley

• National Commander & Chief Executive of the New Zealand Fire Service – Mike Hall

Can I also congratulate Merv George, Wayne Sarjeant, Alvon Wakeford and Lindsay Walker who received Queen’s Service Medals in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

This is actually the second time this year I’ve addressed your annual conference. In February I spoke to you in Christchurch, and the change in timing means here we are again.

The new date for your conference means brigades can consider the activities of the Board over the last 12 months and give feedback on performance

Pike River tragedy

Can I start by acknowledging the work of professional and volunteer firefighters in the response to the Pike River Mine tragedy.

I’m told that one of your volunteers is lost in the Pike River mine, and other firefighters have lost family members.

Our thoughts are with our firefighters, their families, and the wider Greymouth community during this difficult time.

The initial emergency call was received at 4:38pm on Friday 19th November, and three local volunteer stations were on the scene quickly.

As the scale of the emergency was uncovered, the Christchurch Hazmat vehicle was deployed. Christchurch Urban Search and Rescue have been on standby, and their specialist cameras and listening gear were flown to the site on Monday for possible use.

It has been a very trying time and I know that many firefighters and other rescue personnel were devastated they couldn’t do more to help.

These kind of tragedies remind us just how much our communities rely on emergency services.

Canterbury earthquake

It’s been a traumatic few months in the South Island recently, with this tragedy as well as the Canterbury earthquake, major storms in Southland and the Fox Glacier plane crash.

On behalf of the New Zealand government I’d like to thank you and your members for their outstanding work in what has been very difficult circumstances.

We often talk at this Conference about volunteers and their role in the community, but this year we saw what it means in a big way in Canterbury.

The earthquake will be the stand out event for many this year.

Some fire stations were affected by the earthquake. Kaiapoi had a damaged parking area and station house. Lyttelton had damaged garage doors but managed to get its appliance out. Many other stations had their challenges but you all responded to the needs of your communities.

As so often happens in times like these, we saw the best in our community as people rallied to help each other. Many firefighters suffered damage to their own homes, but put aside their own needs to help others.

It wasn’t just your physical actions in demolishing chimneys and evacuating people which helped. Many residents were shaken and upset and even just the presence of uniformed firefighters gave a real boost.

Thank you again for your outstanding contribution.

I’ve been down to Canterbury a few times since the earthquake to meet with firefighters and see the work they’ve been doing. In a couple of weeks time I’ll be down in Christchurch again to present certificates and thank the fire brigades who were directly involved.

The earthquake response showed the benefits of a national fire service. The Fire Service was able to move in personnel and equipment to relieve those who had already spent many long hours on duty.

Changing Nature of the Job

The earthquake response demonstrated how the Fire Service is now much more than just a firefighting force. It truly has become a fire and rescue service.

A firefighter today is just as likely to attend a car accident or medical response, as attend a fire. This is one of the many issues the Commission takes into account when considering the resourcing of the Fire Service.

Last year there was a decline in the number of fire incidents attended. Much of this can be attributed to the increasing emphasis on fire prevention and safety. Installing smoke alarms and talking about fire safety to the community is clearly making a difference.

Legislation

When I spoke to your conference in February this year I outlined some of the challenges facing the Fire Service into the future, which I can update you on.

I acknowledged that the current fire legislation, the Fire Service Act and the Forest and Rural Fires Act, are out-dated in a number of areas. This remains the case and it’s clear that legislative change will be needed in the future.

My concern is that these outdated laws will increasingly limit the ability of our services, urban and rural, to adapt to changes taking place in society and the changing demands placed on them.

I want to emphasise though that the Government will not be joining together the rural and urban fire services.

Alcohol

Another piece of legislation you might be interested in is the Alcohol Reform Bill, introduced to Parliament last week.

The Law Commission recommended that the exemption from the Sale of Liquor Act enjoyed by Fire Service canteens should be removed.

I can tell you the government is not supporting this recommendation.

The Bill has now been referred to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee and public submissions close on 1 February 2011.

Financial Situation

The financial challenge facing the public sector remains the same.

The Government is facing increased scrutiny – as it should – of how it spends taxpayers’ money, and how it accounts for its spending decisions.

This expectation is the same for the Fire Service as it is for all other Government organisations. The public deserves to know that it is receiving the best service for the lowest cost.

Of course the Fire Service Commission doesn’t receive funding directly from the taxpayer, but as part of the wider public service it has to demonstrate value for money.

This doesn’t mean they should simply cut back.

The Commission is undertaking a vigorous audit of levy payers to determine who are minimising their obligations to pay the Fire Service levy.

This is more equitable than simply increasing the levy on those who are honest enough to contribute, to pay for those who aren’t.

New Board appointment

Finally, this week I announced a new appointment to the New Zealand Fire Service Commission.

Vicki Caisley from Auckland is a self-employed contractor with wide experience in human resource management, both in the public and private sectors.

Ms Caisley replaces Angela Foulkes, who has served the Commission well over the last 10 years.

Conclusion

Thank you again for the opportunity to address your Conference today, and on behalf of the New Zealand government, thank you for your outstanding work.

Our society relies on volunteers like you, in good times and bad.

All the best for the rest of your conference.
ENDS

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