Fire and Emergency on Port Hills fires report: ‘We need to improve’

Video: Geoff Sloan

A lack of co-operation between fire agencies and decisions made on the ground contributed to the Port Hills fires raging out of control earlier this year, an investigation says.

Firefighters could have done better when responding to the Port Hills fires, a review has found.

The then New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) and National Rural Fire Authority commissioned an independent operational review of the event to learn from their response.

The focus of the review, conducted by Alan Goodwin of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authority Council (AFAC), was to make recommendations on how the newly established Fire and Emergency New Zealand would carry out its duties in the future.

“The review found that while firefighters from across the agencies did a lot of things well there are areas we need to improve,” Fire and Emergency chief executive Rhys Jones said.

“The Port Hills fires were one of the biggest and most complex in New Zealand’s history.

“We accept the review’s findings and have developed an action plan to set out how we will respond to meeting each of the recommendations,” Jones said.

The action plan focuses on three main outcomes, Jones says. Improving how firefighters and the incident management team operate and work together, the safety of firefighters, and keeping the community at the “heart of our work before, during and after an incident”.

“Fire and Emergency New Zealand has brought together urban and rural firefighters from 38 different fire agencies into one organisation under one piece of legislation.

“The main difference is, next time, it will be one organisation responding to the fire.

“The lessons from these fires and this review will be help us build our new organisation into one that serves our communities best.”

Jones wanted to acknowledge those who lost so much as a result of the fires and wanted to thank the efforts of all involved.

“I also want to thank all firefighters, emergency responders, support personnel and community volunteers who worked tirelessly in very difficult conditions to keep Christchurch safe.”

Jones and Selwyn District Mayor Sam Broughton expressed sympathy to the family of helicopter pilot Steve Askin who died in the fire.

Rural Fire manager Richard McNamara, an aviation fire specialist who became incident controller after three days of the blaze, said it was a fire “unprecedented in New Zealand in terms of its impact”.

 – NZ Herald