New Zealand Fire Service

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New Zealand Fire Service
Whakaratonga Iwi (Māori)
Leading integrated fire and emergency services for a safer New Zealand
Operational area
CountryNew Zealand
Agency overview
Established1 April 1976 (1 April 1976)
Dissolved30 June 2017 (30 June 2017) (replaced by Fire and Emergency New Zealand)
Annual calls74,879 (2015–16)[1]
Employees1,700 career firefighters[1]
8,300 urban volunteer firefighters[1]
Staffing585 management and support
76 communications centre
Fire chiefPaul McGill (National Commander)
Facilities and equipment
Stations79 career[1]
360 volunteer[1]

The New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS, Māori: Whakaratonga Iwi, "Service to the People"[2]) was New Zealand's main firefighting body from 1 April 1976 until 1 July 2017 - at which point it was dissolved and incorporated into the new Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

Legal Authority[edit]

Papatoetoe fire appliances line up at outside the front of their station in December 2015.

The NZFS was somewhat unusual, internationally, in that it had jurisdiction over the entire country with no division by region or city. It was 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 was predominantly configured as an Urban Fire & Rescue Service. The Fire Service Act placed 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 was covered by Rural Fire Authorities (RFAs) that acted under the Forest and Rural Fires Act. Fire Service brigades responded outside their Districts to deal with structure and rescue incidents, and usually undertook the initial suppression attack on wildland fires.

Note: The New Zealand Department of Conservation was a RFA with responsibility for firefighting within recognised State areas, including National Parks, totalling about 30% of the country. The New Zealand Defence Force remains responsible for all Defence Areas as defined through the Defence Act. With these two agencies included, the NZFS and territorial local authority RFAs formed the bulk of the firefighting capability in New Zealand. There continues some contribution from Industry Fire Brigades (those run by commercial entities, for example forestry companies or Airport Authorities).


Auckland 2018 Hazmat Appliance attends a tanker rollover with an unknown substance leaking.

Central Government[edit]

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

Chief Executive / National Commander[edit]

Beneath the Commission were the positions of Chief Executive and National Commander. At the time of dissolution both positions were filled by Paul McGill. Where the Chief Executive did not have operational fire fighting experience, a separate National Commander was appointed to be the most senior operational fire fighter in the country. The National Commander may have taken control at a particularly serious incident, though this happened very rarely.

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

Chain of Command[edit]

The country was 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 was in the charge of a Fire Region Commander. All FRCs report directly to the National Commander, and were promoted from the ranks of operational staff. A FRC could take control of a major incident, and was ultimately responsible for any incident at which they are present even if they were not the Officer-in-Charge.

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

  • 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 were primarily responsible for managing the career districts, while the Area Commanders had overall responsibility for the area as well as for the volunteer Chief Fire Officers of each volunteer fire districts within their areas. These were the officers who are ultimately entrusted – via the Fire Service Act – with the powers that are exercised at the scene of an incident to 'deal with' the emergency. These powers were 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) had 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 most appliances was four – an officer-in-charge, a driver/pump operator, and two firefighters – although many appliances were equipped to carry an extra one or two firefighters, operational support staff, or observers.

  • 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 usually in a position to provide leadership in the absence of a Station Officer. Suitably qualified SFFs may have stood in for an SO on a temporary basis.
  • Qualified Firefighter (QFF)
  • Firefighter (FF) – the baseline rank within the Fire Service.

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


Career staff[edit]

The New Zealand Fire Service employed 1,713 professional career firefighters, 444 support staff and 80 communication centre staff.

Each career fire station had a number of watches (shifts). Full-time career stations have four watches, red, brown, blue and green, rotating on a "four-on four-off" schedule: two 10-hour day shifts, followed by two 14-hour night shifts, followed by four days off. Combination career and volunteer stations may have had a yellow watch, in which career staff work four 10-hour day shifts per calendar week, having one weekday, Saturday and Sunday off. Non-operational staff were "black watch", and work a regular 40-hour week.[3]

Career Firefighters responded to 70–80% of the incidents the NZFS attended and protected around 80% of the population.

Career firefighters numbers were relatively stable with low turnover. The Fire Service usually recruited twice-yearly, and received up to 700 applications for just 48 positions on each intake, making competition high and job prospects poor compared to other industries.[4] Initial training for career firefighters was done on an intensive 12-week residential course at the national training centre in Rotorua that covered 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 provided the NZFS personnel that staff the nations specialised USAR Response teams. Additional specialised training was provided for these personnel, however all paid career firefighters were trained to a baseline USAR 'Responder' level.


Career firefighters made up only 20 percent of the New Zealand Fire Service's firefighting manpower; the remaining 80 percent of firefighters were volunteers, who received no payment for their time or labour. The 8,300 volunteer firefighters belonged to the 360 volunteer fire brigades,[1] mainly serving small towns, communities and outer suburbs which career stations did not cover, and responded to 20–30% of all incidents the New Zealand Fire Service attended.

Volunteer firefighters had diverse backgrounds; around 14 percent were women, compared to just 2.8 percent in the career ranks.[1] Volunteers were on-call; when an emergency call came through, firefighters were alerted through pagers and in many small regional towns, a siren atop the fire station.

The minimum age to become a volunteer firefighter in the New Zealand Fire Service was 16, although those under 18 required parental consent.[5][6] Initial training was done within the local volunteer fire brigade at their weekly training nights and culminated 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 included hose drills, ladder drills, portable pumps, and breathing apparatus use (BA), which was 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 units within the NZFS organisation also provided support services over and above the role of the Firefighter. Various Operational Support Units (OSUs) manned by volunteers were 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.[7] The biggest of them, Auckland Operational Support Unit, also known as the Auckland Volunteer Fire Brigade, was also the biggest volunteer fire brigade or unit in New Zealand with a membership of 60 and in the 2015 calendar year, members responded to more than 700 incidents.[8]


New Zealand Fire Service flag

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. The changes saw Station Officer helmets change to red (trainee firefighter helmets, which were red, changed to green), and Area Commander and Assistant National Commander helmets change to silver. The change was to make it easier to identify the command structure at a large-scale, multi-agency incident.[9]

The epaulette markings used by the New Zealand Fire Service were identical to those used by the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Army, except for the use of impellers instead of pips.

Rank Epaulette[10] Helmet[10]
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 in a triangle 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 OR blue with two white stripes
Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) impeller between two ferns below one impeller white with one blue stripe OR blue with one white stripe
Senior Station Officer (SSO) two impellers red with two blue stripes OR blue with two yellow stripes
Station Officer (SO) one impeller red with one blue stripe OR blue with one yellow stripe
Senior Firefighter (SFF) two bars yellow OR blue, with two red stripes
Qualified Firefighter (QFF) one bar yellow OR blue, with one red stripe
Firefighter (FF) plain yellow OR blue
Recruit Firefighter (RFF) plain fluro-green


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

The New Zealand Fire Service was first and foremost a firefighting service, as made obvious by the name. However, it was also increasingly called upon for other emergencies where firefighting skills and tools are helpful, including hazardous material incidents, motor vehicle accidents, natural disasters, and medical emergencies. This change in focus was reflected in the name-change effected during the transition to Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

In the year to 30 June 2013, the Fire Service attended 70,900 callouts. Of those, 7.7 percent were for structural fires, 23.3 percent were for non-structural fires, 32.8 percent for non-fire emergencies, and 36.2 percent were false alarms. In the same period, 38 people died in 34 fatal fires.[11]

Examples of non-fire emergencies the Fire Service attended 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 was the lead agency for New Zealand USAR operations (Civil defence & emergency management Act 2002) They also managed three USAR Task Force level teams, providing communications and resources. Being the lead agency, the New Zealand Fire Service also coordinated the 17 NZ Response Teams which also provide light USAR support. Paid career NZFS firefighters had a baseline level of training in USAR techniques and made up the vast majority of the actual USAR team members.
  • Medical Co-Response – Co-responding with ambulance services to "Code Purple" emergencies (e.g. cardiac and respiratory arrest)
  • Medical First Response – Responding to medical emergencies 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.

Appliances and vehicles[edit]

Type 1 Pump Appliance.
Type 2 Pump Rescue Appliance.
Type 3 Pump Appliance.
Type 4 Bronto Aerial Appliance.
Type 5 hydraulic elevating platform
Light response vehicle (LRV)
Type 5 hydraulic elevating platform (retired)
Combined command and hazardous materials tender

The New Zealand Fire Service operated around 850 fire appliances, including conventional pumping appliances and specialist appliances, and 330 support vehicles. Fire 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 its function. An example is "Newlands 291" – 29 indicated the appliance is resident at Newlands fire station in Wellington, and 1 indicates its function is a pump.

Pumping appliances[edit]

The basic appliance in New Zealand is the Pump Tender, which is primarily equipped for fires. Typical equipment includes a pump (normally driven off the appliance engine via a power take-off); a high pressure hose reel for small fires and initial attack; a supply of high-pressure and low-pressure hoses for larger fires; fire-fighting foam; a standpipe and bar for accessing fire hydrants, and suction hoses for accessing non-reticulated water supplies; forcible entry tools such as Halligan bars, axes and sledgehammers; aluminium and wooden ladders; and a first aid kit with an automated external defibrillator.

The two major variations on the Pump Tender are the Pump Aerial Tender and the Pump Rescue Tender. The Pump Aerial Tender has an additional aerial ladder and monitor for high-rise and aerial attacks. The Pump Rescue Tender, in addition to firefighting equipment, carries extra equipment primarily for motor vehicle accidents and vehicle extrication. Typical equipment includes hydraulic rescue tools (aka "The Jaws of Life"), vehicle stabilisation equipment, and winches.

Most new pumping appliances for the New Zealand Fire Service up until the transition to Fire and Emergency New Zealand, were manufactured by the Fraser Engineering Group in Lower Hutt, and based on Iveco, Scania and finally MAN chassis.[12] Other manufacturers and chassis including Hino, Dennis, Mitsubishi/Fuso, International, Dodge, Bedford and Mack had been used in the past.

There were four sizes of pumping appliances, named Type 1 through Type 5:

  • The Type 1 "Light" appliance is used in both urban and rural areas. It has a rear-mounted 1900 L/min pump with one low-pressure hose reel, a 2000 L onboard water tank, and around 5.2 m2 of locker space. The latest appliances were typically built on Iveco Eurocargo chassis.[13]
  • The Type 2 "Medium" appliance was used in both urban and rural areas. It has the same features as the Type 1, but has an additional high-pressure hose reel and around 1.3 m2 extra locker space. New appliances are typically built on Iveco Eurocargo chassis.[14]
  • The Type 3 "Heavy" appliance was used in urban areas. It has a mid-mounted 3800 L/min pump with two high-pressure hose reels, and a 1400 L onboard water tank. Since 2015, new appliances have typicallybeen built on MAN TGM chassis; prior to this they were typically built on Scania P-series chassis.[15]
  • The Type 4 "Heavy Aerial" or "Bronto" appliance is used in urban areas. It has the same features as the Type 3, but is also fitted with a 17-metre aerial ladder and monitor. New appliances are typically built on Scania P-series chassis.[16]
  • The Type 5 & 6 "Heavy Aerial" or "Bronto" appliance is used in urban/city areas. It has the same features as the Type 4, but is fitted with a 32-metre aerial ladder and monitor, instead of a 17-metre. Some of the 32-metre appliances do not consist of any pumps, whereas some Type 5/6's do.

Pump Tender identification numbers ends in 1, 2 or 3 (e.g. Onehunga 221, Manurewa 301, Hastings 561); Pump Aerial Tender identification numbers end in 4, 5 or 6 (e.g. Ellerslie 274, Auckland 205, Parnell 256); and Pump Rescue Tender (PRT) identification numbers end in 7 (e.g. Auckland 207, Papatoetoe 347, Christchurch 217)

Specialist appliances[edit]

Career staff appliances may also carry more specialised 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. Typyical appliances, their functions and identification numbers are as followed:


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

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

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


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.

Notable incidents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 2014" (PDF). New Zealand Fire Service Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 January 2015. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  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. ^ "Shifts and Rosters". New Zealand Fire Service. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  4. ^ "Job opportunities – Firefighter". Careers New Zealand. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  5. ^ "An Introduction to Volunteering". New Zealand Fire Service. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  6. ^ Bryant, Grant (20 June 2008). "Mataura fire chief calls for volunteer firefighters". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  7. ^ "About Operational Support". Hutt-Wairarapa Operational Support Unit. Retrieved 3 April 2014.
  8. ^ "Auckland OSU, Introduction". Auckland OSU. 17 September 2016.
  9. ^ "Heads Up" (PDF). Fire + Rescue. New Zealand Fire Service (94): 7. August 2013. ISSN 1176-6670. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 May 2017. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Rank insignia". New Zealand Fire Service. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  11. ^ "Emergency Incident Statistics 2012–13" (PDF). New Zealand Fire Service. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  12. ^ Edwards, Simon (1 July 2014). "Hot stuff: Firm marks milestone". Hutt News. Lower Hutt. p. 5.
  13. ^ "Type 1 fire appliance brochure". Fraser Engineering. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  14. ^ "Type 2 fire appliance brochure". Fraser Engineering. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Type 3 fire appliance brochure". Fraser Engineering. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  16. ^ "Type 4 fire appliance brochure". Fraser Engineering. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  17. ^ "Multi-purpose fire, medical vehicle on trial". Television New Zealand. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 12 January 2015.

External links[edit]