The Fire Service needs a nationwide shake-up, with new powers to collect funding and extra obligations to attend crashes, a review has found.
An independent review panel of the Fire Service found it had no legal obligation to attend crashes despite becoming New Zealand's default rescue agency.
Because of their informal role as rescue respondents, firefighters also had no legal protection if a response went wrong.
''It was of concern to the Panel that New Zealand communities expect the fire services to deliver these services, and indeed rely on them to do so, but that the fire services are neither obligated to deliver them nor is their liability limited if things go wrong.''
Law changes were recommended to spell out the Fire Service's obligation to respond to accidents and limit firefighters' liability.
The panel also recommended new ways for the Fire Service to recover costs of attending fires and rescues.
This would include changing the way the Fire Service charges commercial property owners levies.
A disagreement between the insurance brokers and the Fire Service over levies on commercial property currently being litigated through the courts.
Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain described the report as evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
''Their (Fire Service) roles have expanded to provide a multi-purpose emergency and rescue service so it's important to get the legislation right.''
The Government would consider the recommendations with further decisions expected in March.