Fires trending downward in the South

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Firefighters have been fighting fewer fires and attending more medical and rescue emergencies in the Southern region.

Figures released to the Otago Daily Times show structure fires across the region were trending downwards in the decade since 2002-03.

Fire Service southern region acting commander Stu Rooney said it was pleasing to note structural fires in the South had been reducing, particularly in areas such as Oamaru and Gore.

However, at a national level, Invercargill remained too high in recorded cases of structural fires, and preventive work would continue to be carried in the city to reduce the risk.

The East Otago area - which includes Dunedin - mirrored closely the Fire Service's national goals and "we are putting effort into sustaining the level, but we are really putting effort into the places that are way too high".

Mr Rooney said it was important to keep the trend of fewer false alarms continuing, particularly where volunteer brigades were concerned.

"It takes firefighters away from their family, their employment ... and can make people complacent, which is dangerous."

The Fire Service was also actively assisting building owners, fire alarm maintenance companies, and contractors to reduce false alarm call-outs, "because it is better to fix a problem than just continually charge for the problem".

A formal agreement with St John was behind the increase in medical emergencies and assisting ambulances, which has effectively doubled in the decade since 2002-03.

"As a consequence of that agreement, we are seeing the organisation respond to more medical calls and we are seeing that right across the country."

Co-responding to life threatening calls alongside St John would result in "earlier intervention, and earlier intervention results in lives saved".

Over the past few decades, the service's role had changed from predominantly firefighting to an emergency response role.

Mr Rooney confirmed this month he would be leaving to become the Fire Service's national operations manager in Wellington.

hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz