Volunteer firefighters save country $820m annually - report

File photo: RNZ
File photo: RNZ
The United Fire Brigades' Association is calling for more support for volunteer firefighters.

Hidden in Plain Sight, an independent report written by Esperance Capital Ltd, and released by the United Fire Brigades' Association this morning, showed that New Zealand's 11,832 volunteer firefighters deliver $823 million worth of value every year.

United Fire Brigades' Association chief executive Bill Butzbach said the report confirmed volunteers were the backbone of the country's emergency services.

"To put it bluntly, without our volunteer firefighters, New Zealand's emergency response system would collapse. Our emergency services simply could not operate without them," he said.

Butzbach said 86 percent of firefighters were volunteers.

"Not only does the dedication and selflessness of our volunteers protect our communities, it provides taxpayers and the government with savings of $823 million a year.

"That's $823m the government can invest in hospitals, schools and other key services."

But Butzbach said there needed to be more investment in volunteer firefighters.

"There is a value that the volunteers provide, obviously, in terms of the work they do, but if it was monetised, it would be a significant number.

"Within Fire and Emergency New Zealand, we want fairness and equity across the board, just in terms of what volunteers are entitled to, and in terms of their equipment and training, particularly in professional development, because volunteers lead their own brigades.

"But more than that, volunteers are not treated very well by ACC legislation, and that has to change."

The United Fire Brigades' Association board chair Peter Dunne said it was important that their contribution was not taken for granted.

"Volunteers do not receive the same level of uniform, training, fleet or equipment as their paid colleagues," he said.

"They also receive less rehabilitation support, compensation, and health and safety cover when they are injured on duty.

"ACC does not cover mental trauma experienced by volunteer firefighters on duty, or chronic workplace illness because it is considered in law to be a leisure activity.

"That fact is astonishing and cannot continue."

Butzbach said the United Fire Brigades' Association will be meeting with the Minister of Internal Affairs towards the end of this month.

FENZ has been approached for comment.