10 Feb 2009

Fire services merger plan dropped

3:12 pm on 10 February 2009

The Government has decided not to go ahead with a plan to merge rural and urban fire services.

The former Labour government had proposed the creation of an all-encompassing fire and rescue service which it said would lead to fairer funding and better co-ordination.

Internal Affairs Minister Richard Worth says the roles of urban and rural fires services are different, with rural services mostly fighting vegetation fires and their urban counterparts generally putting out blazes in buildings.

Instead, Dr Worth wants the country's 80 rural authorities to follow the lead of the Southland region and amalgamate their rural services.

The Southland service comprises local authorities, forest owners, rural firefighters, the New Zealand Fire Service and the Department of Conservation, Dr Worth said, which was a combination that provided substantial capability.

Dr Worth is yet to have detailed discussions with the Fire Service about how the collaboration would work.

The Southern authority's principle rural fire officer, Mike Grant, says rural fire agencies in the region were combined more than five years ago and the system has worked well.

Training requirements, for example, are consistent and there is less duplication of resources, Mr Grant says.

The amalgamation process has also been carried out in other regions, including Nelson.

Waimea Rural Fire Community principal officer Neil Eder says a merger of urban and rural fire services would not have worked.