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The levy funded Fire Committee

Geoff Cameron, New Zealand Tree Grower August 2017.

The NZFFA has been represented on this committee for a number of years, giving small growers a say on a small but important component of forest and land management at the national level. Since the forest grower’s levy was introduced, this committee is one of the many now funded by the levy.

It is chaired by a member of the Forest Owners Association Executive, currently Grant Dodson.The members are all practising fire managers, either as Principal Rural Fire Officers or senior forest managers with responsibility for rural fire management. I have represented the NZFFA on the committee since 2012 and Don Wallace is the NZFFA Executive representative. The committee meets four times a year.

The Fire Committee’s purpose is to advise the NZ Forest Owners Association and the NZFFA executive on rural fire issues which affect forest owners.The chair is a member of the Rural Fire Committee of the Commission.The main tasks are −

  • Advocacy
  • Consultation to reach a common position where required
  • Setting strategic direction and priorities for fire research
  • Advice on training
  • Providing regional representation on fire matters
  • Providing leadership on rural fire management issues where appropriate.

Activities over the past four years

Contribution to the Fire Service Review

The Fire Committee saw the review of the current legislation as a once in 40-year opportunity to get modern legislation that would meet the needs and activities of all fire fighters and managers. Although the implementation of the Enlarged Rural Fire District strategy had streamlined the governance and increased professionalism in the management of rural fire in New Zealand, there were still improvements to be made. Forestry interests were represented on all 12 boards that had been formed.

The Fire Committee met the review team and made representations on funding and governance, as well as reinforcing the point that rural fire management is really part of land management and the same as any other forest protection process. It is not just a response activity. Funding was always seen to be tricky, as was our requirement to strengthen stakeholder effectiveness.

We looked for equity of treatment for rural volunteers. The Fire Emergency New Zealand (FENZ)

Act was given the Royal Assent on 11 May, and was implemented on 1 July this year. Significant features as they affect our sector −

  • Included is the statement that FENZ must promote the use of fire as a land management tool, and provide fire prevention, response and suppression services
  • The detail of the fire prevention services that must be provided have not been discussed with the sector
  • The rural division of FENZ will have a National Rural Fire Manager with five regional managers
  • About 120 people currently working in rural fire management changed to FENZ on 1 July
  • The funding for this will come from an increase in insurance levies.
  • FENZ will pay for fire suppression work and for agreed training.

FENZ and the Fire Committee are working on a high- level charter and statement of intent, as well as regional and local agreements to ensure the current levels of cooperation are not lost.There has been no word on the nature and size of the advisory committees, meaning that our sector has lost important governance roles in this sector.

A benefit to members of the NZFFA is that you will no longer have to insure for fire suppression costs. However, you will continue to bear the commercial risk associated with the tree crop itself and insure as outlined in the article on page 24 of the May Tree Grower.

Rural fire research.

Fire research is now partly funded from the forest growers’ levy. The Fire Committee has helped the fire research team at Scion by discussing research priorities as we see them, so that the research team can report good interaction.This is crucial in their bids for other government funding.The Fire Committee also receives and discusses fire research reports from the research team at each meeting.

The main areas of research which may be of interest to NZFFA members −

  • Scion researchers have given considerable input into the fire weather system, and made this a world- leading system. It has enabled many of the research advances listed below.
  • In particular, a major recent contribution of research transfer has been to better define activity restriction trigger points – weather conditions at which forest operations are limited, stopped or mitigated. This work contributed to trigger points for the Marlborough and Kaikoura area, and is now being extended to give national coverage from selected weather stations.
  • Using fire modelling techniques to predict the likely path of wildfires for current fire management purposes, and to show what has been saved by fire suppression actions.This fits with research into fire behaviour in New Zealand conditions and especially research into the fire conditions likely to be experienced in wilding fires.
  • A project to review the use of fire as a land management tool.
  • Research into the social dimension of wild fires, particularly on the resilience of rural communities which are affected.
  • Fire fighter fitness and training is an important area of research, given the emphasis on health and safety in rural areas in general and forestry in particular.
  • Work on defining wildfire-prone areas so that greater reduction and readiness programmes can be established.
  • The safety and fire management benefits of using unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.

National fire prevention campaign

Some members will know the character Bernie who is central to this campaign. The campaign has been jointly funded between the National Rural Fire Authority,
the department of Conservation and the New Zealand Forest Owners Association, with the latter acting as banker for the group.

The campaign has been reviewed, along with the messages from the fire danger signs.The campaign now uses people from the commercial and the farm forestry sector to talk about how rural fires have affected them, their business and their lives – in other words, making fire prevention a personalised issue and relevant to our sector. Over past year we saw the use of Ket Bradshaw who suffered significant losses during the first Marlborough fire. You may see her story, and those of others, in Air NZ’s Kia Ora magazine as well as on truck backs and side curtains.

Health and safety

Like most sectors, the rural fire sector is very interested in the new health and safety legislation. Most wildfire incidents have a mix of paid, contractor and volunteer fire fighters, and so the implications of such a mix for forest owners, particularly if a fire crosses into a neighbouring forest, are being carefully worked through. The Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking, known as a PCBU, should be identified as part of any new operation starting.

New and refined policies have been implemented by Rural Fire Officers and will continue under FENZ. Hazards will be identified, near misses reported and cowboy activities will be stopped. Firefighters will not be put into dangerous or unknown situations.

For example, the use of quad bikes and chainsaws by untrained firefighters will no longer be allowed. Members may have noted that the courts have recently been severe on a farmer whose farm worker lost his life in a controlled burn.

Review of operational guidelines

Forest owners have been abiding by a 2001 publication called Operational Guidelines for Fire Management. This was not widely known or used and had become out
of date.After the Marlborough fires a couple of years ago, the insurance industry reviewers noted the wide discrepancy of standards and suggested that either the forest sector get its standards sorted or they would impose their own.

The Fire Committee chose the former and those documents are currently being reviewed. The NZFFA has a voice on the management committee for this contract to ensure the resulting reviewed standards, in the form of best practice guidelines, are suitable for a range of forest owners.The new document is waiting for the research results on trigger points before final publication.

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