Volunteer Firefighters - NZ’s Unsung Heroes
When you call 111 and ask for the fire service, do you know what actually happens? Chances are the squad that attends your emergency could be largely made up of volunteers.
Did you know the majority of Aotearoa New Zealand’s firefighters are volunteers? Volunteers make up 80% of our fire service! Firefighters are important and well-respected members of their communities, providing critical assistance and saving lives in emergency situations.
From July 2016 to June 2017, Fire and Emergency New Zealand responded to 77,465 incidents. It isn’t just fires, either. Volunteer firefighters are often among the first responders at fatal motor vehicle accidents, during natural disasters, at medical emergencies (including delivering babies), and yes – they really do rescue cats stuck up trees.
Let’s look at what it means to be a volunteer firefighter here in NZ.
If you have grown up in a New Zealand town, you are probably quite familiar with the shrill sound of a fire siren calling in the volunteers at all hours of the day and night. Some small towns even tell time by the fire sirens. It is common for the siren to sound at midday every Saturday to test it is still working, and to let everyone know it was time for lunch! This is a tradition that has been kept alive for many years.
Some traditions never change. Regardless of how early in the morning or late at night that siren sounds, our incredible volunteer firefighters turn up to help their communities.
A Day In The Life Of A Volunteer Firefighter
A typical day in the life of a volunteer firefighter doesn’t really exist – today will most likely be completely different to yesterday and tomorrow. When an emergency call comes in, their pagers or phones get the alert – or the town siren tells them it’s time to get to the station. They rush in, gear up, and set out on a truck ready to face whatever’s waiting at the destination.
A lot of stations also have scheduled days where the volunteers turn up to clean the station and trucks. The volunteers also all take part in regular local fundraising and community training events.
Women In Volunteer Firefighting
Our amazing Kiwi women have been important contributors to fire and emergency services for decades. In recent years the fire services in New Zealand have been increasing efforts to bring more women into volunteer firefighting. By 2016, successful female applicants had risen to 17% - an increase from around 3% in the earlier years of the fire services.
Women in Fire and Emergency New Zealand (WFENZ) is a collective of both paid and female volunteer firefighters from across the country. WFENZ, formed in 2001, aims to “create a safe, inclusive environment to encourage diversity and acknowledge our unique strengths as women.”
New Fire and Emergency Law
You might have heard about The Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017 – the new fire law that came into force in May last year. This replaced the decades-old legislation that had become too out of date for modern-day emergency responses.
It introduced some significant changes, including a new structure for how the fire services are funded and new penalties for fire-related offences. It also created a new national fire service organisation. Rural, urban, paid and volunteer firefighter organisations previously existed under The New Zealand Fire Service. Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) became the new organisation that covers all of these services and has a wider range of functions and powers.
Even with the change in structure, what hasn’t changed is the incredible commitment and contribution that New Zealand’s volunteer firefighters give to their local communities. Keep an eye out for your local fire station’s fundraising events and give back to the people who are doing so much for you!