For more than 150 years fire services have been at the heart of New Zealand communities, protecting and preserving life and property.

Over that time many things have changed, but through it all the men and women that make up our fire services have continued to enjoy the trust and confidence of New Zealanders as was demonstrated recently when we topped the Colmar Brunton public sector reputation index for the fourth year in a row.

Looking ahead, we face new challenges. The climate is changing, with extreme weather events becoming more common. Our population is growing, aging and becoming more diverse, and technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate. Our people are being asked to do more.

The first firefighters in New Zealand fought fires with buckets and ladders and wore woollen tunics. Today our firefighters increasingly use highly specialised equipment and modern technology, backed by research.

Just as fire services evolved in the past to meet changing circumstances, we must keep evolving. What worked 30 years ago won’t always work today or tomorrow.

Last year we were called out to more medical emergencies and motor vehicle accidents than structure and vegetation fires. Internationally vegetation fires are getting bigger and hotter. We got a taste of that at home this year with the Tasman fires.

As one of the bigger vegetation fires we’ve had in New Zealand in 60 years, this was an event that required significant resources both nationally, regionally, and locally. We called on the skills of career, volunteer, urban and rural firefighters and worked with a range of partners including councils, iwi, the Department of Conservation, Police, Civil Defence, forestry companies, the Defence Force and the Ministry of Primary Industries, as well as members of the community. It was a demonstration of the way we will need to work in the future.

Fire and Emergency was created to ensure that we can draw on the talents of all the people who were previously part of 40 different fire organisations.

We also need to do more to prevent fires and other emergencies occurring in the first place, prepare for larger emergencies and strengthen the resilience of communities so that when events do happen they are better placed to recover quickly.

Doing all of these things requires our organisation to build on the successes of the past and have the widest possible range of skills. The change process that is underway seeks to achieve that, and will provide opportunities and potential new career paths for our people.

On September 3 we will begin consultation on the next stage of shaping the organisation to meet New Zealand’s changing needs. This is not a cost-saving exercise. It’s about designing and implementing a practical set of arrangements that will work where it matters most – on the ground in our communities.

Many of our people as well as union and association representatives have already been involved in the design process, but this is a consultation exercise where everyone’s input is welcome. No one individual or group has all the answers.

We will be seeking your feedback on Service Delivery leadership roles at a national, regional and area level, as well as risk reduction and community readiness and recovery positions, our approach to rank and role, and leadership positions in the other branches.  Please take the opportunity to have your say.

Please be respectful of your fellow Fire and Emergency personnel during what is a challenging time. We are all, after all, trying to do the same thing – make New Zealand safer.

Finally, I want to say that there is one thing that definitely won’t be changing. Having people with relevant competencies in charge of incidents remains a fundament principle of the proposed new structure.

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