Call for fire fund change

Port Chalmers Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Stephen Hill says the brigade attends...
Port Chalmers Volunteer Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Stephen Hill says the brigade attends more medical callouts than fires. Photo by Samantha McPherson
Volunteer fire brigades are attending more medical callouts than fires and the trend is likely to continue. Some city firefighters say they are ''more than happy'' to do it but the change has prompted calls for fire service funding to change. Samantha McPherson reports.

The number of medical callouts attended by Dunedin volunteer fire crews has prompted calls for the fire insurance levy to switch to a ''predictable funding base'' as everyone benefits from having a Fire Service but not everyone pays property and car insurance.

Port Chalmers Volunteer Fire Brigade attended 149 callouts last year, of which 98 were medical. Chief Fire Officer Stephen Hill believes the brigade is making a difference in the community by attending medical emergencies.

''That's what we are here for. We are more than happy to attend them.''

On the other side of the harbour, Portobello Volunteer Fire Brigade attended 59 callouts, of which 30 were medical. Chief Fire Officer Bruce Didham said the brigade was well resourced so ''we can provide that critical first response''.

''We have a 30 to 40-minute head start on St John. Attending medical callouts has increased over the years as the Fire Service has become more comfortable with being a medical responder.''

However, the Insurance Council of New Zealand is opposed to the fire insurance levy funding medical callouts.

Chief executive Tim Grafton said the levy, which provides the Fire Service with 95% of its funding (about $320 million) a year, should be paid by ''direct taxation or property taxes'' because ''most of the Fire Service's work has nothing to do with putting out fires but undertaking other emergency and non-emergency work''. New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union national secretary Derek Best said the existing

funding mechanism was ''inappropriate and open to abuse''.

''There is no specific funding for response to non-fire emergencies.''

Even for fire, businesses and businesspeople under-insured property, did not insure it or adopted ''various minimisation schemes'', he said.

Mr Best said the firefighters' union was against total funding through tax but ''a property-based levy is a possibility''.

At present, all property owners who insure against fire pay a levy, up to a maximum of $76 (not including GST) a year.

If you own a motor vehicle under 3.5 tonnes, you pay $6.08 excluding GST if it is insured. Commercial property owners pay $76 per $100,000 of the insured value.


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