Like many of the world’s fire brigades, the early history of the New Zealand Fire Service is marked by the development of insurance companies. Specifically, during the period between 1840-1860 fire insurance companies imported manually operated water pumps that were used to fight fires on the premises of companies they insured.
The significant cost of privately resourcing New Zealand’s firefighting measures led insurance companies to apply pressure on local and central government for the public responsibility of fire management. Together with such initiatives as the Wellington Provincial Council’s 1856-1860 Town Protection Act, the impetus for district fire brigades resulted in the formation of the Christchurch Fire Brigade in 1860.
By 1946, New Zealand had 60 such fire districts, each with Fire Board and brigade. Another 99 fire brigades, existing in boroughs that were not yet formed as fire districts, supported these.
In 1949 however, as a partial response to the disastrous Ballyantyne’s Fire in Christchurch of 1947, the Fire Services Act established the Regional based Fire Service Council with Chief Fire Officer, Secretary and officials.
This was superseded in 1975 with the passing of the Fire Services Act, a significant development in the evolution of the New Zealand Fire Service as it is understood today. The Act established the New Zealand Fire Service Commission, charged with the restructuring of the Fire Service from under local authority management into a service with centralised financial and strategic control.
On 1 April 1976, all fire authorities were dissolved and the Commission was vested with full responsibility for the Fire Service throughout New Zealand.
In more recent years, the function of the Commission has been refined through the introduction of the Fire Services Amendment Act in 1990. This Act split the Commission into three part-time commissioners, and together with changes in area and regional structures introduced over the course of the 1990s, was a tumultuous decade.
The last few years have seen the Fire Service develop as a mature organization, committed to a programme of sophisticated strategy, international leadership and national fire safety education.