14 Nov 2015

New Fire Service structure gets tick from union

7:23 am on 14 November 2015

The union representing firefighters is welcoming a move to unify the country's fire services.

The Government yesterday announced plans it was merging volunteer, career, urban and rural fire-fighter services into a single national organisation.

The move follows a review calling for the system to be reformed because of a lack of support for rural firefighters and a lack of clear responsibility.

Fire engine north of Gisborne.

The new unified Fire Service has met with union approval. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Professional Firefighters Union national secretary, Derek Best, said the changes should have happened a long time ago.

He said the distinction between rural and urban fire fighters was no longer relevant and all fire crews needed to work more collaboratively.

"The distinction between rural and urban is now well past it's used by date," he said.

"The vast majority of incidents in rural areas are no different to urban areas, they're structure fires, vehicle accidents and those sorts of things, so that distinction or that barrier needs to be broken down and I think [these changes] will do that."

Fire Service national commander Paul Baxter said there was widespread support within the sector for one unified organisation.

Mr Baxter said it involved merging 53 organisations, who up till now had worked independently of each other.

"We've done a huge amount of work on relationships, both with the associations and the unions, and also with through the [Fire Service] Commission working really closely with the rural sector, such that now they see the benefits of supporting such a change, where previously they didn't," he said.

Mr Baxter said a key component of the merger was creating regional committees so that no areas were overlooked.

The changes will be in legislation introduced to Parliament next year and a new unified fire service should be in place by mid 2017.