1 Nov 2016

Fire crew takes out insurance after driver prosecution

5:42 am on 1 November 2016

The country's biggest volunteer fire brigade is taking out its own insurance in case volunteers crash on their way to a callout and end up having to fork out for legal costs.

Fire engine north of Gisborne.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The insurance move comes after a volunteer firefighter in Wellington, John Klaphake, was found guilty of careless driving causing injury last month.

Mr Klaphake was driving an operational support truck when it collided with another car at an intersection in Wellington in July last year, injuring the driver.

The Fire Service refused to help Mr Klaphake with his legal costs or fines, which he says have added up to about $17,000.

The Auckland Operational Support brigade said it was worried its volunteers wouldn't be covered if anything similar happened to them.

Its chief fire officer, Glenn Teal, said the brigade was now taking out insurance to cover its drivers while on duty, and that would also provide legal advice for those who might have to mount a defence.

"That was the concern of the 60 members of the brigade that I'm responsible for - they just don't want to have that question arise that they might be driving under urgent mode to an incident and have something happen and find for some reason someone judges they're not eligible for support, in which case they would have recourse to their insurance," he said.

The money to pay for the insurance would come from a grant to volunteer brigades from the fire service meant for social events and welfare costs, he said.

Volunteers 'frightened' following Wellington prosecution

Tony Swain, the officer in charge of the Newlands Volunteer Fire Brigade in Wellington, said volunteers couldn't afford to pay court costs out of their own pockets, so it was understandable brigades were taking caution.

"I think their members are probably running a wee bit frightened as to what would happen to them in light of John's case, and rightly so in some ways.

"But then again we shouldn't have to be put into position where what we have to take out insurance to cover ourselves.

"We are acting in good faith and I don't see why we should have an extra burden of taking out extra insurance to cover ourselves. It's going to be quite expensive I would imagine."

The Fire Service said it would support all its volunteers, including members of operational support units, with costs incurred in the course of legal proceedings, if they were complying with the law and internal policies.

"The Fire Service maintains full insurance coverage that protects all our people, career and volunteer, while they are carrying out Fire Service duties. However, the terms of our insurance policies require us to operate both within the law, and within organisational policies. These policies are in place to protect our people and members of the public," it said in a statement.

The fire region manager Brendan Nally previously said he believed Mr Klaphake had acted out of policy.

But Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said employees should be covered if it was a matter of carelessness.

"It certainly does seem unusual because you would normally expect that if you were doing work as an employee that your employer's insurance would be covering you for something that arose that was careless, but if you've done something deliberately wrong, and you face court action as a result of that and receive a fine, then your insurance isn't going to cover you for that."

Mr Teal said his brigade was erring on the side of caution and would finalise their insurance policy in the next few weeks.

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