‘Resourcing issues’ from Fire and Emergency New Zealand are leading some Tauranga firefighters to work 70 hours per week, according to Tauranga’s representative at the NZ professional firefighters union, Mike Swanson.
The issues are also causing local firefighters to have prolonged exposure to carcinogens such as smoke, and using outdated equipment that is “sometimes older than the firefighters using it”.
Mike, who represents the Tauranga, Mount Maunganui and Greerton fire stations at the union, says that FENZ has not recruited enough staff to cover the standard vacancies they get.
“It’s things like secondment, sick leave during winter, and public holidays. The Government keeps adding public holidays but doesn’t give us the staff to cover them,” says Mike.
“Some of our staff are working 70 hours-plus a week. When you work that amount of time, you are subjected to a lot more trauma.
“Working those sort of hours, your mental health suffers, families suffer, marriages suffer, and you are exposed to much more cancer-causing agents made by fires.
“When it comes to wintertime, you get a few more illnesses than usual, and there is fewer staff to cover these positions.
“It’s even things like when trucks break down. When that happens, sometimes the backup truck is older than the firefighters on it.
“Big metropolitan cities are experiencing these issues even more, but they are definitely affecting us here in the Bay of Plenty.
National Party’s Fire and Emergency spokesperson Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller says the resourcing issues are “continuing to mount” and a number of fire stations across the country are “unable to stay open because crews are too stretched”.
“FENZ has a broken culture. The men and women who put themselves on the line to protect our families, homes and communities are desperate for support, and FENZ seems unable to respond.
“The unfolding debacle is quickly becoming a farce that is putting firefighters and our communities at risk.”
Mike would like to see the funding “go to the right places” in order for these issues to subside. “Firefighter numbers haven’t been adjusted since the 1980s. The population has increased a lot in that time.
“FENZ has adjusted these numbers in the national office, and added about 300 extra people there. “There’s lots more backroom people, and not a lot more ‘front room’ people. We need more professional career firefighters on the ground.
“Staff are having to make tactical decisions they wouldn’t normally have to. Typically, entering a burning house we have two people monitor conditions outside while two people go inside. If we only have three firefighters on a truck, we have to wait for more resources arrive before going inside.
“In these situations seconds count.”
Mike adds new recruits start out on “just above minimum wage” and sometimes have to take “massive pay cuts” to join, which is making it harder to recruit people who want to have a career at FENZ.
Mike makes it clear the issues that local firefighters are experiencing are “no different” to other parts of the country, and it is “not a criticism of Tauranga’s local management”.
“We are very supportive of our local management, and our volunteers. We just wish these things were addressed on a national basis.”
When approached, FENZ declined to comment on the situation.