New Zealand Fire Service

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New Zealand Fire Service
Whakaratonga Iwi (Māori)
Leading intergrate fire and emergency services for a safe New Zealand
Operational Area
Country  New Zealand
Agency Overview
Established 1 April 1976 (1 April 1976)
Annual calls 70,907 (2012-13)[1]
Employees 1,700 career firefighters[1]
8,300 urban volunteer firefighters[1]
Staffing 524 management and support
76 communications centre
Fire chief Paul Baxter (National Commander)
Facilities & Equipment
Stations 78 career[1]
358 volunteer[1]

The New Zealand Fire Service (Māori: Whakaratonga Iwi, "Service to the People"[2]) is New Zealand's main firefighting body, primarily responsible for providing fire protection to urban and peri-urban areas of the country. It has also taken responsibility for several other roles, often on the basis of public expectation, including hazardous material incident response, vehicle extrication, urban rescue, and natural disaster response.

The service was established on 1 April 1976 by the enactment of the Fire Service Act 1975. The Act consolidated the Fire Service Council and regional fire boards into the New Zealand Fire Service Commission, with the New Zealand Fire Service established as its urban operational arm.

Strategic Direction[edit]

The New Zealand Fire Service has defined for itself a Mission, Vision and a Values statement which reflects their business. The New Zealand Fire Service's key aims, as required by statute, are fire safety and fire prevention.

The New Zealand Fire Service Commission developed a statement of strategic direction in June 1999 which comprised 4 elements:

  • Focus on fire prevention, fire safety and fire outcomes (This placed a greatly increased emphasis on fire prevention and fire safety while also working to improve the outcomes from traditional emergency response activities).
  • Resource reallocation and 'value for money' expenditure (This aimed to appropriately resource the increased fire prevention and fire safety work. It also required all resourcing decisions to pass a risk-based 'best value for money' test).
  • Best practise organisation (This aimed to achieve a culture of continuous improvement and reform in the Fire Service through constant exposure to best practise in general organisation).
  • Strong Fire Service governance and management (This is to enable the Fire Service to: Deliver on its statutory mandate, Respond to the needs of all stakeholders, Become resilient to shocks through good risk management, Support the Government's emergency management reforms).

Legal Authority[edit]

A pump tender outside Mosgiel fire station in 2010

The NZFS is somewhat unique, internationally, in that it has jurisdiction over the entire country with no division by region or city. It is the result of the New Zealand Fire Service Act (1975) which nationalised the various District-level brigades which had developed across the country.


The New Zealand Fire Service is predominantly configured as an Urban Fire & Rescue Service. The Fire Service Act places responsibility on the NZFS for firefighting in gazetted Urban Fire Districts, totalling about 3% of New Zealand's land area but covering 85% of the country's population. The remainder of the land covered by Rural Fire Authorities (RFAs) that act under the Forest and Rural Fires Act. Fire Service brigades respond outside their Districts to deal with structure and rescue incidents, and usually undertake the initial suppression attack on wildland fires.

(Note: The New Zealand Department of Conservation is a RFA with responsibility for firefighting within recognised State areas, including National Parks, totalling about 30% of the country. The New Zealand Defence Force is responsible for all Defence Areas as defined through the Defence Act. With these two agencies included, the NZFS and territorial local authority RFAs form the bulk of the firefighting capability in New Zealand. There is some contribution from Industrial Fire Brigades (those run by commercial entities, for example forestry companies or Airport Authorities). At present, there are about 80 RFAs, but the number is being reduced through the formation of enlarged Rural Fire Districts.)


Three Dunedin appliances attending an incident in 2010

Central Government[edit]

The entire organisation reports to the Minister of Internal Affairs, by way of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission. The Commission is composed of five members, and the Minister is required by law to appoint at least one person who is either a fire engineer or has experience as a senior operational fire fighter. The New Zealand Fire Service Commission is also the National Rural Fire Authority.

Chief Executive / National Commander[edit]

Beneath the Commission are the positions of Chief Executive and National Commander. Currently both positions are filled by Paul Baxter. Mike Hall, who was formerly the chief of the Queensland Fire Brigades, held these positions up to the end of 2011. Where the Chief Executive does not have operational fire fighting experience, a separate National Commander is appointed to be the most senior operational fire fighter in the country. The National Commander may take control at a particularly serious incident, though this happens very rarely.

The Chief Executive has a number of direct reports, though these are concerned with matters such as human resources and finance rather than operational matters.

Chain of Command[edit]

The country is broken into five fire regions: Region 1 (Northland/Auckland), Region 2 (Waikato/Bay of Plenty/Gisborne), Region 3 (Lower North Island), Region 4 (South Island north of the Waitaki River), and Region 5 (South Island south of the Waitaki River). Each region is in the charge of a Fire Region Commander. All FRCs report directly to the National Commander, and are promoted from the ranks of operational staff. An FRC may take control of a major incident, and is ultimately responsible for any incident at which they are present even if they are not the Officer-in-Charge.

Reporting to the Fire Region Commander are the Area Commanders and Assistant Area Commanders who manage the 24 areas contained within the regions. The areas are:

  • Region 1: Muri-Whenua, Whangarei-Kaipara, Waitemata, Auckland City, Counties-Manukau
  • Region 2: Waikato, East Waikato, Bay of Plenty Coast, Central Lakes, Tairawhiti
  • Region 3: Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Wanganui, Manawatu, Hutt-Wairarapa, Wellington
  • Region 4: Tasman-Marlborough, West Coast, Canterbury, Christchurch City, South Canterbury
  • Region 5: Central-North Otago, East Otago, Southland

Assistant Area Commanders are primarily responsible for managing the career districts, while the Area Commanders have overall responsibility for the area as well as for the volunteer Chief Fire Officers of each volunteer fire districts within their areas . These are the officers who are ultimately entrusted - via the Fire Service Act - with the powers that are exercised at the scene of an incident in order to 'deal with' the emergency. These powers are far-reaching - they provide authority to commandeer, demolish or destroy whatever is required in the course of their duties, given no more suitable options.

Each Chief Fire Officer (CFO) will have a Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) and a number of Senior Station Officers (SSOs) and Station Officers (SOs) reporting to them. The minimum number of firefighters required to man an appliance is four - an officer-in-charge, a driver/pump operator, and two firefighters - although most appliances are equipped to carry an extra two firefighters.

  • Station Officer (SO) - In charge of the crew and the officer with the delegated authority of the CFO at any response.
  • Senior Firefighter (SFF) - an SFF is an experienced Firefighter who is in a position to provide leadership in the absence of a Station Officer. Suitably qualified SFFs may stand in for an SO on a temporary basis.
  • Qualified Firefighter (QFF)
  • Firefighter (FF) - the baseline rank within the Fire Service.

An SSO may run in place of an SO as required or at their own discretion. In career districts the SSOs are strategically located to provide a more experienced command officer who is usually placed such that they are responded to most incidents of significance.


A new colour scheme for helmets was introduced in August 2013, and rolled out in late 2013. Previously, yellow helmets were issued to Firefighters and Station Officers, white helmets to Chief Fire Officers, Area Commanders and Assistant National Commanders, with markings being the only discerning features.[3] The changes saw Station Officer helmets change to red (trainee firefighter helmets, which were red, changed to green), and Area Commander helmets change to silver.[4]

Rank Epaulette[3] Helmet
National Commander (NC) silver crossed sword and baton below a crown black
Deputy National Commander (DNC) silver crossed sword and baton below an impeller black
Assistant National Commander (ANC) three impellers trefoil below a crown silver with two blue stripes
Area Commander (AC) one impeller below a crown silver with one blue stripe
Assistant Area Commander (AAC) three impellers silver
Chief Fire Officer (CFO) impeller between two ferns below two impellers white with two blue stripes
Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) impeller between two ferns below one impeller white with one blue stripe
Senior Station Officer (SSO) two impellers red with two blue stripes
Station Officer (SO) one impeller red with one blue stripe
Senior Firefighter (SFF) two bars yellow with two red stripes
Qualified Firefighter (QFF) one bar yellow with one red stripe
Firefighter (FF) plain yellow
Trainee Firefighter (TFF) plain fluro-green


Responding to a fire under an office building in Auckland in 2009.

The NZFS was originally designed and equipped as a Firefighting Service, as made obvious by their name. However the additional role - that of a rescue agency - is now of greater significance (in fact the success of the Fire Safety message being put across is that the incidence of 'other' responses (Rescue, etc.) is now greater than that of fire).[citation needed]

Over and above firefighting, the New Zealand Fire Service provides first-response to essentially all emergency situations that are not otherwise handled by the New Zealand Police or a local Ambulance service. This has mainly come through necessity, but also because Firefighting equipment is often useful for the work involved.

Examples include:

  • Road Crash Rescue - Extrication of entrapped persons in the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident
  • High Angle Rescue - Rescue from the side of buildings; dangerous terrain (cliff faces, etc.)
  • Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) - The containment of a hazardous substance and decontamination of an environment or persons affected by a hazardous substance
  • Natural Disasters - Addressing the problems caused by heavy rain and high winds (lifted roofing, power lines and trees down onto properties or across roadways, flooding)
  • Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) - The New Zealand Fire Service is the lead agency for New Zealand USAR operations (Civil defence & emergency management Act 2002) They also manage three USAR Task Force level teams, providing communications and resources. Being the lead agency, the New Zealand Fire Service also coordinates the 17 NZ Response Teams which also provide light USAR support. Paid career NZFS firefighters have a baseline level of training in USAR techniques and make up the vast majority of the actual USAR team members.
  • Medical Emergencies - Medical 'First Response' in smaller communities where there is no local ambulance service, as well as in the main centres when an ambulance is unavailable or will be significantly delayed in attending an incident. As of Christmas 2013, the New Zealand Fire Service co-responds to all Code Purple (cardiac or respiratory arrest) emergencies St John Ambulance attends nationwide. Note that in the Wellington Region (excluding Otaki), Wellington Free Ambulance responds to medical emergencies rather than St John; while the Fire Service provides backup to Wellington Free Ambulance, they do not co-respond to their Code Purple emergencies.

These additional areas have led the NZFS to begin the process of rebranding; it is now actively promoted as being the New Zealand Fire and Rescue Service as this is seen as a more accurate representation of their role in the community. At a government level the much-expanded role of the New Zealand Fire Service has been recognised, and as such the Fire Service Act 1975 (the legislation under which the service operates) is currently[when?] under review, with a view to replacing the Act with newer legislation which better supports their work.[5]



Type 1 pump tender.
Type 2 pump rescue tender.
Type 3 pump tender.
Type 4 pump aerial tender
Light response vehicle (LRV)
Type 5 hydraulic elevating platform
Type 5 hydraulic elevating platform (retired)
New generation combined command and hazardous materials tender

The fire appliances operated by the New Zealand Fire Service is typical of that run by most fire brigades worldwide. In both volunteer and career districts, The standard appliance is the Pump Tender, which is equipped to respond primarily to fires. Each appliance has a supply of hoses, a pump (either driven off the appliance motor or separately, depending on the pump configuration; most of New Zealand's mainstream appliances still use a single motor for both drive and pumping capability controlled via a special gearbox) and a combination of high and low pressure deliveries.

Additional equipment carried may include:

  • Standpipe and bar for access to fire hydrants
  • Suction pumps and other equipment in order to gain access to water sources other than the reticulated supply
  • Assorted Rescue Equipment - Hooligan tool (a.k.a Halligan tool), axes, sledgehammers (for use in burning buildings etc.)
  • Miscellaneous wooden lengths suitable for shoring up unstable structures
  • First aid equipment including an automated external defibrillator
  • Salvage sheets or groundsheets suitable for holding water in or out
  • Portable generator and lighting equipment
  • General purpose ropes and lines
  • Additional assorted handtools
  • Aluminium or wooden ladders (conventional type)

Most brigades also have a Pump Rescue Tender (PRT), which carries equipment suitable for rescue work and vehicle extrication in addition to the above fire fighting equipment:

  • Hydraulic rescue tools (a.k.a. "Jaws of Life"), including spreaders, cutters and jacks.
  • Airbags (for lifting)
  • Handtools to support / stand in for the above
  • Vehicle stabilization equipment
  • Winch (Tirfor)

Career staff appliances may also carry more specialized items used for industrial rescue, light USAR and high-angle line rescue. In some areas, these are carried on separate Rescue Tenders or Emergency Tenders which do not have pumping capabilities.

Additional specialist appliances are usually strategically located in each fire district:

  • Aerial monitors - pumping appliances fitted with an aerial ladder and monitor, typically 17 metres (56 ft) long.
  • "Snorkel" or other types of elevating platforms - non-pumping, typically 32 metres (105 ft) long.
  • Turntable Ladders, non-pumping, typically 32 metres (105 ft) long.
  • Hazardous materials response
  • Command vehicles
  • Breathing apparatus tenders (e.g. Auckland 2015 - Located in Auckland City.)
  • Incident support vehicles (carries extra BA equipment, communications etc. (assists with HAZMAT operations)
  • Hoselayers
  • Lighting & power generation units (e.g. Birkenhead 8219 - Located in Birkenhead, North Shore.)
  • Foam tenders
  • Water tankers, to assist in water supply at properties or in areas without a reticulated supply (e.g. Takaka 3911 - Located in Takaka, South Island.)
  • Technical (heavy) rescue tender - Auckland Fire District only

Appliances are given a three- or four-digit number for identification. The first two digits specify the appliance's resident station (numbers may be repeated between areas), while the last one or two digits specify it function – 1/2/3 for Pump Tenders, 4 for aerial monitors, 5 for elevating platforms, 6 for turntable ladders 7 for Pump Rescue Tenders, 11 for water tankers, 18 for command vehicles. For example, the appliances pictured on the right are (from top to bottom) Newlands 291, Greytown 647, Hastings 561, Invercargill 214, Tawa 3320, Wellington 215 (new), Wellington 215 (retired), and Wellington 2118.


The NZFS works closely with the NZ Police in many respects - a key one of those is that the three Communications Centres which coordinate the Fire Service response across NZ are colocated with their Police Equivalents in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The radio network utilised by the Fire Service for its nationwide coverage is provided and supported by the Police, although most urban areas provide for an exclusive Fire-only radio channel or channels.

In rural areas, the channel may be shared between both services. Generally this is an acceptable arrangement, though when either the Police or the Fire Service are particularly busy in an area with shared radio services, this can cause the other service some grief. In contrast, the fact that Police have ready and direct access to the Fire Communications Centre is occasionally of some value in terms of inter-agency liaison.

At the scene of an incident, VHF and UHF simplex frequencies are generally used. These are usually common between NZFS, NRFA, DoC and NZDF firefighters and discrete from the Police. Access to shared liaison channels is also provided, allowing for Ambulance, Police, Fire and other resources (for example aircraft that may be called upon to assist in firefighting) to coordinate.


The New Zealand Fire Service was one of the key developers of the Coordinated Incident Management System which is now in widespread use throughout the NZ Emergency Services environment. This provides for a common set of terminology and procedures which lends itself to multi-agency incidents.


Career staff[edit]

The New Zealand Fire Service employs 1,713 professional career firefighters, 444 support staff and 80 communication center staff. Career firefighters and communication center staff work a "four on-four off" roster consisting of two day shifts followed by two night shifts then four days off. The rest of the employed staff work hours and days similar to a standard five day working week.

Career Firefighters respond to 70-80% of the incidents the NZFS attends and protect 80% of the population.

Training for career firefighters is done on an intensive 12 week residential course at the national training center in Rotorua that covers not only traditional firefighting subjects but others required of a modern professional Fire and Rescue Service. Topics such as; urban search and rescue (USAR), motor vehicle extrication and hazardous materials.

Career firefighters provide the NZFS personnel that staff the nations specialized USAR Response teams. Additional specialized training is provided for these personnel, however all paid career firefighters are trained to a baseline USAR 'Responder' level.

Competition is high for career positions in New Zealand Fire Service with large numbers of applicants, often in the thousands, going through a rigorous selection process for the 25 spots on a recruit course.


The majority of the manpower available to the New Zealand Fire Service is the approximately 8,000 volunteers who receive no payment for their time or labour. Professional career firefighters are available in the cities and large provincial towns only, and in some cases are supplemented by volunteers from other urban and urban-fringe Fire Brigades. The largest urban area in New Zealand with a completely volunteer fire brigade is Blenheim (population 30,200).

Volunteers come from all walks of life. Initial training is done within the local volunteer fire brigade at their weekly training nights and culminates in a seven-day residential recruit course, normally held at the National Training Centre (NTC) in Rotorua or the Woolston Training Centre in Christchurch. Training includes hose drills, ladder drills, portable pumps, and breathing apparatus use (BA), which is carried out in BATB (Breathing Apparatus Training Building) and RFTB (Realistic Fire Training Building) simulators. The BATB is a gas-fired training facility and the RFTB is a live fire scenario.

Volunteer firefighters respond to 20-30% of all incidents the New Zealand Fire Service attends.

Volunteer units within the NZFS organisation also provide support services over and above the role of the Firefighter. Various Operational Support Units (OSUs) manned by volunteers are attached to Fire Districts and Brigades across New Zealand, which provide non-firefighting assistance at large-scale incidents. These include traffic and crowd control, scene cordons and lighting, basic first aid, salvage, communications and logistics, and even catering.[6]

The minimum age to become a volunteer firefighter in the New Zealand Fire Service is 16, although those under 18 require parental consent.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b c d e "New Zealand Fire Service Commission Annual Report 2013". Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "Fireman stood down in Maori words row". The Dominion Post (via 6 November 2007. Retrieved 27 March 2014. ...the Maori words "whakaratonga iwi" – meaning "service to people"... 
  3. ^ a b "Uniform rank markings". New Zealand Fire Service. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Heads Up". Fire + Rescue (New Zealand Fire Service) (94): 7. August 2013. ISSN 1176-6670. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, Review of Fire Legislation". 
  6. ^ "About Operational Support". Hutt-Wairarapa Operational Support Unit. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  7. ^ "An Introduction to Volunteering". New Zealand Fire Service. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  8. ^ Bryant, Grant (20 June 2008). "Mataura fire chief calls for volunteer firefighters". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 

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