Emergency services from around Australasia were impressed by Wellington’s call to action in winning the 21st Annual Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) Conference.

The 21st Annual Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) Conference was true to its theme, ‘After Disaster Strikes: Learning from Adversity’. The rotating AFAC event was due to be held in Christchurch in 2013 but the city’s earthquake saw organisers move the event to Melbourne. The creation of new venue space in Wellington and a concerted local push to win the event saw it move to New Zealand’s capital in 2014.
 
Amanda Leck, Director Information & Community Safety at AFAC, says: “So many members had sent crews over for the Christchurch earthquake response they had been keen to go back to New Zealand and show their support for New Zealand, and to renew their friendships with people they had worked alongside. It was then a matter of finding somewhere with the right facilities.”
 
The key requirements for this event included venues that accommodated plenary sessions for 900 delegates, breakout spaces, a trade exhibition hall for 80 exhibitors and a space for five fire engines to be on display, all within close proximity. The development of the new Shed 6 venue alongside Wellington’s TSB Bank Arena proved the tipping point.
 
“The integration between Shed 6 and TSB Bank Arena worked really well for us,” Leck says. “It was great having the conference, trucks and exhibitor displays separate, but so close. We like to have the trade expo co-located with the plenary venue. All breaks are held in the trade expo floor area so that proximity is really important to us.”
 
A groundswell of local support was also instrumental in winning the event for Wellington. Fraser Engineering, a Wellington-based engineering company that designs and manufacturer’s fire engines, initiated discussions with Mayor Celia Wade Brown.
 
Martin Simpson, General Manager at Fraser Engineering, says “Having the conference in Wellington meant many of the top chiefs from fire brigades in Australasia came to Wellington and looked at our latest trends in technology and how we do things in innovative and more efficient ways.”
 
Yet a further benefit to holding the event in Wellington was that the capital is also home to the New Zealand Fire Service HQ. Seeing the benefits for the city, the team at Business Events Wellington and Positively Wellington Venues (PWV) then worked with the organisers to bring the four-day conference to Wellington.
 
The final event, organised by ASN Events in conjunction with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council and the New Zealand Fire Service and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, welcomed 1,129 delegates, including 600 from Australia and 30 from the Pacific.
 
The main programme of events was held in three Positively Wellington Venues – Shed 6, TSB Bank Arena and a number of workshops at the Michael Fowler Centre. Simon Monk, Executive Director at ASN Events, says: “Positively Wellington Venues were fantastic. They were there for us throughout. Always ready to provide answers to questions and help us with any issues that could arise, no matter how small.”
 
ASN Events wanted to make the most of the versatility and flexibility of Shed 6. Audio-visual, staging and production company Multi-Media Systems worked with the PWV team to transform the venue within extremely tight time-frames, with the retractable seating system and operable walls transforming the venue from one large plenary room to four separate breakout rooms within 30 minutes, while delegates enjoyed morning tea.
 
PWV’s food and beverage partners Restaurant Associates created tailor-made menus for the event, and by serving lunch in noodle boxes and brown paper bags, allowed delegates to spend their breaks talking with exhibitors in the trade hall and seeing the latest technology and industry trends.
 
Located right on the waterfront, the TSB Bank Arena also provided the delegates the opportunity to make the most of the scenery and sunshine during the break as well as view the external trade displays.
 
Monk adds: “We’ve had really positive feedback from delegates, many of whom have been pleased with the venue set up being more accessible as well as the quality of the suppliers, especially the caterers.”
 
The power of the precinct also impressed Australian organisers. Flight access into Wellington was good, as was access from the airport. As well as having the venues in close proximity, delegates had access to fantastic restaurants, the beautiful harbour, and hotels at varying price points – all within a ten minute walk.
 
Wellington also proved to be very cost effective – venues, hotels, catering, technical and travel were all competitively priced, even taking into consideration the New Zealand exchange rate.
 
A highlight of the programme was a ‘walk and talk’ style gala dinner at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, designed to give delegates some exposure to New Zealand culture as well as enabling networking. “They loved the dinner. We did some tours around the Museum and that was a big hit,” Monk notes.
 
“Wellington is an absolutely stunning city. I’m looking forward to sharing our experience with the wider team and looking at what other business events we can bring to Wellington.”
 
Post-event, 98% of delegates rated the overall conference good, very good or excellent, up from 95% in 2013; and 96% said it met or exceeded expectations, up from 92%. AFAC’s Amanda Leck concludes: “The conference really was fabulous. We normally get very good feedback and this one was outstanding. They loved the city and the venue was fantastic because it was more intimate, more personal.”