Our History

Fire Police in New Zealand

It's not exactly known where Fire Police were first introduced in New Zealand but it was probably about 140 years ago when volunteers were enlisted as sworn constables to work alongside the local fire brigade in times of fire.


The fledgling Auckland city had a forerunner to Fire Police when in October 1854 the City Council passed a by-law giving powers to named individuals to "issue orders and directions to all persons present at fires". Mr John Kelly of High Street was the first appointee, a volunteer, "to govern persons at fires (except those involved in fire-fighting) so as to preserve law and order and thus to assist fire-fighting" and the by-law included a fine of up to five pounds for those who disobeyed Mr Kelly.


Canterbury was the crucible for Fire Police. The Christchurch Fire Police Corps was probably the first in New Zealand, formed at a meeting in August 1867. Kaiapoi founded a Fire Police Corps in 1871 and Lyttelton a year or 2 later. Ironically, neither body had long to wait for their first testing blaze: in both towns the local hotel caught fire resulting in a major fire within weeks of members enrolling. Napier advertised for suitable candidates in 1874, Wellington Fire Police began in 1877 and other units known to have been established before 1900 were Blenheim, Ashburton, Timaru, Wanganui, New Plymouth, Invercargill, Nelson, Greymouth, Hastings and Rangiora. And Dunedin? In 1880 Council voted not to establish Fire Police.

Early 1900's

Hawera, Masterton, Palmerston North, Feilding, Eltham, Gisborne Masterton, Palmerston North and Hawera were other early Corps. Towns up and down the country also began enrolling Fire Police, usually formed as separate entities to fire brigades but sometimes combined with Salvage Corps. From 1865 Fire Police were provided-for in most Provincial law and/or local by-laws which sometimes described their duties but nearly always spelled out their authority and powers as temporary or special constables.


Fire Police were properly recognised in Statute - a similar clause to that in the more recent, 1975 Fire Service Act - providing for the establishment of Fire Police and the requirement to be sworn in as constables. However, the 1949 Act did not make it mandatory for Fire Police to be part of a brigade: they could be established as a "police unit" (note the lack of the word "fire" before "police" in the legislation) by an Urban Fire Authority and exist outside the aegis and administration of a fire brigade. Some Fire Police chose to continue as these separate entities, leading to a sometimes indifferent relationship with the local Brigade. And where a Fire Board allowed the Captain of the Fire Police to report directly to the Board, bypassing the Chief Fire Officer, there was further potential for hostilities, sometimes extending to the fireground where there was supposed to be no mistake - the Chief was in command.


The Fire Service Council, by this time overseeing nation-wide fire protection, confirmed the place of volunteer Fire Police when it drew up and circularised Operational Instructions for Fire Police, recommended for all brigades.


These Instructions were updated with an expanded list of duties (all non-fire fighting), uniform issue, rank and a suggested training regime. This was the foundation for the later Section M - Fire Police, in the Fire Service Manual of Administration.


The new Fire Service Act drove all Fire Police in New Zealand into an integrated set-up with the words "With the consent of the senior officer of the Police in the district, any Chief Fire Officer, in accordance with the policy of the (Fire Service) Commission, may establish a volunteer fire police unit.". This meant that only the local Chief Fire Officer could establish Fire Police and then within nation-wide policies: Fire Police could no longer be formed, and presumably survive, separate from the Brigade.


Some brigades chose to drop the name Fire Police, calling these members Operational Support, Operations Support or Support Personnel. Many of these volunteers continue to carry out the same duties as Fire Police, but unsworn, using the wide-sweeping powers conferred in Section 28 of the Fire Service Act.

Recent Past

Government's intention in the mid 2000s to repeal and overhaul fire service legislation, with the suggestion that Fire Police might not survive the sweeping changes, did not eventuate: stalled when proposed new funding arrangements for the service went unresolved. The new Government (late 2008) showed no appetite to revisit a rewrite of the Fire Service Act, so it remained the 'status quo' and business as usual for Fire Police. However, in late 2009 consultations began between Fire Police and the New Zealand Fire Service about changes the Service wished to make. In November 2010 new policy was promulgated which replaced the name Fire Police with Operational Support, prescribing duties, uniform, training, ranks and administration.


On October 29th 2011 Auckland Fire Police transformed to the new title, Operational Support. While no longer sworn constables, members were welcomed to the newly named entity at a function held to mark the milestone, and all members were encouraged to maintain the proud heritage following in the footsteps of those who have willingly served in this role in many parts of New Zealand for more than 150 years. In 2017, the Fire Service Act 1975 was repealed and replaced with the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act, formally retiring the concept of Fire Police in New Zealand.