Whangārei Heads residents send a clear message to Fire and Emergency New Zealand regarding delays. Photo / Tania Whyte
The sluggish pace at which Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) is approving plans to upgrade the Whangārei Heads fire station has frustrated residents who helped raise more than half a million dollars for the cause.
The country’s unified fire service acknowledged the delays, saying it will work as fast as possible to review all the information necessary so a decision can be made on whether the plans go ahead.
The money raised allowed the Whangārei Heads Volunteer Fire Brigade to purchase a first response vehicle to quicken their response time to medical events in the coastal community, which at its furthest point is a roughly 45-minute drive away from the nearest ambulance station in Kensington.
However, in order to use the ute, Fenz required the brigade to upgrade their station so the vehicle could be housed on-site. The caveat shifted the fundraising target from around the $70,000 mark to roughly $550,000.
While the brigade successfully applied for two separate council funds worth a total of $300,000, the community, as well as the Lions Club of Onerahi and Whangārei Heads, helped raise the rest.
But that was eight months ago and the fire station remains untouched, fundraising co-ordinator Jack Broome said.
“It’s one thing to get the first response vehicle, but you need to get a building to put it into.”
That is why he and his wife Jayne Broome organised a protest outside the local fire station on Tuesday morning, supported by around 20 people who showed up with placards that expressed their dismay with Fenz.
Among them were Wayne and Sue Morris, who had donated auction items during the fundraising process. The couple wanted Fenz to speed the process up.
“We need the first response in this area,” Sue said. “A lot of places are rural, they’re up steep drives – they’re hardly accessible by the fire engine, and the first response vehicle is much smaller and easier to manage.”
She said the community’s make-up – a mixture of older retirees and young families with children – further fuelled a need for a quick response.
Whangārei Heads fire chief Paul MacDonald previously told the Advocate the brigade responded to a “record-breaking” number of callouts in 2021. They received more than 100 calls for help, of which around 60 per cent were medical events.
Broome was perplexed by the hold-up given the demand for the service and the fact the ute and funds were sitting there waiting to be used.
“As recently as yesterday [Monday], there was a callout in Reotahi, and the fire station goes out and has firemen rigged out in firefighting gear to support someone who has a broken ankle. We have this first response vehicle sitting in a local garage because it’s not allowed to be used as first response, and that’s why Fenz need to get off their jacksie,” he said.
Fenz regional manager Ron Devlin said his organisation acknowledged the delays and understood the frustration it caused for the brigade and the community.
Questions about what was behind the delays went unanswered.
Devlin did, however, indicate cogs were now turning.
“Last week, an in-principle agreement was signed, and concept design documents are now being reviewed by Fire and Emergency management. They understand there are time pressures and will work as quickly as possible to review all information carefully before coming to a decision.”
The Whangārei Heads Volunteer Fire Brigade, which was not involved in the protest or its organisation, opted not to comment at this stage.