A&F Bulletin - Thanks to our firefighters

Columns
Monday, December 14, 2015

It goes without saying that our volunteer fire brigades are an absolutely essential service to our rural and many of our urban communities.

During my recent series of Provincial Priorities meetings  which were initiated to keep in touch with our many rural constituents, it was brought to my attention that the Ward Volunteer Fire Brigade is struggling with recruitment and retention.

This is an issue that is not unique to Ward but is widespread among volunteer fire brigades.

The Ward Volunteer Fire Brigade has just six members, but really needs a minimum of 12. That means a heavy workload is shared by a precious few. Two of the six volunteers work for the same employer which could be a problem for the employer.

Volunteer fire brigade duties stretch far beyond just fighting fires to include road crashes, rescues, medical emergencies and a myriad of other callouts.

The Ward Brigade covers a very long stretch of State Highway 1 between Seddon and Kaikoura. Eighty per cent of all their calls are road crash related.

Volunteers are spending a lot of time filling out forms and writing reports rather than actually doing what they are there to do: Help those in need.

In a small community, finding volunteers who are able to be on call at all times and have employers who are able to support that cause is difficult enough without these added hurdles.

Following my meeting with Ward brigade members, I spoke to Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne about the situation and I was pleased to hear that he is very aware of what is going on and keeping close tabs on the situation.

The Minister assures me the current Fire Service Review will address a lot of the issues faced by small rural brigades.

Our volunteer firefighters deserve our full support and anything that makes their jobs easier needs to be addressed.

On the topic of fires, at the time of writing our rural fire forces are still working on the huge fire in the Wairau Valley, the third major forest fire in Marlborough in 2015.

What has been shown in the course of those fires is that we have a very professional rural fire management system in place, which stretches back to a revamp of the entire system following the Boxing Day fires of 2000.

I extend my thanks to Richard McNamara and his team, in fact all the firefighters from Marlborough and further afield, who have been involved with fighting this massive blaze.

As we head further into an extremely dry summer, I imagine both rural and volunteer fire brigades will be kept busy.

I wish all those hardworking firefighters a safe and happy Christmas.