Siren sounds for paid resort fire brigade

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A paid fire brigade is “inevitable” in Queenstown due to increasing pressure on volunteers, a local fire service boss says.

Mountain Scene can reveal callouts jumped 22 per cent between April 2015 and April this year.

The Fire and Emergency New Zealand figures, released under the Official Information Act, show there were 704 call-outs across Queenstown Lakes in the 2015/2016 year.

That jumped to 863 last year.

The biggest drivers of the increase were vehicle crashes, medical calls, and rescues.

Firefighters also spent much of the long, dry hot summer on high alert due to scrub and bush fire call-outs, which had the potential to endanger people and property if not quickly controlled.

Assistant area manager Steve Jones says increasing growth in the Queenstown area means a paid brigade is inevitable.

“It’s a wonderful place to come, but it means there’s more people in hotel rooms, more people on the road, and more people in places where they wouldn’t normally be.”

Bumper-to-bumper traffic around Frankton is also causing headaches for firefighters – and potentially slowing up response times.

To alleviate the problem, they’re implementing a one-truck response to false alarms, Jones says.

False alarms still tie up the most firefighting resources in the district, with 352 call-outs last year. They’ve also introduced a light response vehicle, based in the Shotover Country/Lake Hayes Estate area, to help ferry firefighters to jobs. An increasing number of medical and crash call-outs means careful monitoring of mental health, Jones says.

“We are aware it’s an issue, and we’re trying to front-foot it.”

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult says volunteers do an “amazing job” but he supports a paid brigade.

“I do get concerned about the pressure our volunteers, and their employers, are under.”

He says council’s in discussions with NZTA about congested roads.

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz