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Fire Service bill passes first reading

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 5/07/2016

Urban and rural fire services will be merged under a bill that has passed its first reading in parliament.

A single organisation will be created called Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

It's the biggest fire service shake-up in 70 years and Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne announced the details in April.

He brought the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Bill to parliament on Tuesday night, and it passed its first reading unanimously.

"It represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to enable New Zealand to have a fit for purpose fire organisation that is flexible, modern, effective and efficient," he said.

"It will enable fire services that work well, are funded appropriately for the work they do, and will value the rural and urban, paid and volunteer workforce."

There will be no job losses and existing entitlements will continue.

More than 80 per cent of New Zealand's firefighters are volunteers.

Mr Dunne said while fighting fires was still the core function of the service, its role had expanded far beyond that.

"Their functions now include responding to vehicle accidents, urban search and rescue, and dealing with hazardous substances," he said.

The new organisation will be funded through the fire levy, which is paid on insurance for contents, property and motor vehicles.

The single funding source replaces a variety of others that currently pay for rural fire services.

When Mr Dunne announced the merger in April he said household insurance levies would increase from 2018, at levels still to be determined.

There was extensive consultation before the design of the new organisation was settled.

"The message for change was clear," Mr Dunne said.

"This bill reflects the views and desires of New Zealand's fire services, their communities, and wider stakeholders."

It has been sent to a select committee for public submissions.

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