It may not be the most obvious risk when moving to the country, but fire safety should be on your radar. Understanding the risks and how to mitigate them can literally save your life or the life of someone close to you.

Whether you’re new to country living or an old hand, there’s a lot to know about rural fire safety and you may be very surprised at what you learn. Which is why we've written a comprehensive downloadable guide to help you keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Some topics that are covered in more depth in the guide are:

Time

Most rural firefighters are volunteers. Ordinary people, with ordinary jobs and ordinary lives who take on extraordinary responsibilities in their communities. They put their lives on the line to protect us and in return we have a responsibility to do all we can to not endanger them by our actions or inactions.

As volunteers, they’re not sitting at the station waiting for an emergency call. They’re at their jobs, playing sport or looking after family members. So when a call comes in they have to drop what they’re doing, race to the station and get ready to head out.

An urban fire crew will generally be on its way within 7 minutes of a call from dispatch. In a volunteer station the time can be 20 minutes or more before they leave the station.

Then how long after that will they get to you? How far away is the station? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? More? If the local crew is already out on a job how far to the next closest station?

Depending on your location you could be waiting for around an hour for a crew to even arrive. Once they’re there they need to be able to find you, have good access to the property and also of course they need water to put out the fire.

Access

RAPID (Rural Address Property Identification) numbers are allocated by councils and are used by emergency responders to find your property. Some councils have rules about how RAPID numbers are displayed on properties but I’ve seen some beautiful, artistic and almost unreadable RAPID numbers on gateposts. Make sure your rapid number is displayed, is clear and reflective so it can be easily read at night.

Fire & Emergency NZ require a minimum of 4m x 4m for access. Those overhanging branches on the driveway may look attractive but when your house is alight it’s too late to trim the branches so do it now!

Water

When the firefighters turn up at your property they’ll generally expect you to supply the water to put out the fire. In town they connect to nearby hydrants but on rural blocks it’s your responsibility to provide the water. This means you need to have the water, in an accessible location, and enough room for them to set up their pumps.

There is a big difference between having the capacity and having the water. Given that fires are most likely to occur when things are hot and dry, this is also the time your water tanks may be low. A water tank with a few inches of water is no use to put out a fire!

How much water should you have available? In most parts of New Zealand you’re expected to have around 40,000 litres, which is more than a standard sized tank.

Risks

It’s obvious that we need to think about preventing fires wherever possible but country living has new risks that you may not have considered such as:

  • Rodents chewing through wiring
  • Damp hay spontaneously combusting
  • Power surges causing damage

Then there’s flammables, powertools, farm vehicles and more…

Fires that you start

There may be times when you want to burn something on your property. These deliberately lit fires are one of the biggest reasons for call outs to fire brigades. The fires ‘get away’ and spread. Fire & Emergency NZ have a fantastic new resource ‘Can I light a fire? which asks a few simple questions then gives advice on whether you should go ahead. It can even suggest waiting a day or two for better weather conditions. Every time you plan to light a fire outdoors you should check on this page.

Finally

In rural areas there are more risk factors and more strategies to consider. You should have an escape plan in case of fire. You should create a safe zone around your house and you should check your insurance cover.

Download our LSB Guide to Fire Safety for more information and resources.