Civilianisation of operational management roles

Recent appointments are a clear indication that FENZ is on the path of civilianisation of operational management roles.

The NZPFU is of the view that FENZ is placing flawed ideology before the protection of the community and the safety of firefighters. The bias against professional career firefighters and their underpinning qualifications and experience is becoming more evident with every announcement. The integrity of a professional fire and emergency service is being dismantled to the detriment of the community.

Our representatives are having to argue for the maintenance of rank structures and despite providing sound evidence the discussion keeps going in circles. In its bid to have everyone in one waka FENZ is losing sight of its primary purpose and responsibility to protect life and property. The focus on rural is creating an imbalance in key management and strategic roles that will impact on professional career firefighters. Despite undertaking more than 80 percent of all emergency response, highly skilled, qualified and experienced professional career firefighters are not respected as the managers and critical problem-solvers that they are.

This week a rural manager was announced as the Acting Region Manager for Te Upoko (Region 3) and is therefore responsible for NZ’s second largest urbanised region including the capital city despite not being a career firefighter or having experience of management in the urban context.

It follows last month Service Delivery Leadership Team appointments which included appointing a non-career firefighter to Manager Region Te Kei (Region 5) and two other civilians without any emergency service experience to the National Manager Risk Reduction and Chief Advisor to Deputy Chief Executive Service Delivery/National Commander Kerry Gregory.

The normal expression of interest process was bypassed for the Te Upoko (Region 3) temporary Manager to be shoulder-tapped for the role that National Commander Kerry Gregory has defended stating the he has appointed the best person for the job.

In response to the NZPFU’s question as to the validity of the appointment of a non-career firefighter and someone who does not have urban experience Kerry Gregory responded when I am appointing Acting Regional Managers I make this decision on the basis that all suitable candidates are interested and ensure that I select the best person for the role at that particular time. If the person that I choose is not interested or is unable to take up the position then I will consider alternative options.”

Given there was no expression of interest process it would be difficult to support a claim that there were no suitable candidates from a career firefighting and urban management background.

Mr Gregory dodged responding directly to our health and safety concerns and our request to confirm that this Acting Manager does not Authorised Command Level or any management or accountability of operational command including matters that indirectly affect operations on the incident ground and response:

“As previously discussed, the role of Region Manager is strategic in nature and Region Managers are not expected to be consumed by day-to-day operational issues. There are Area Managers and PRFOs to operate in that space. I expect Rachael will operate in accordance with this while she is acting. Rachael has a team of on call executive officers under her direction as the Region Manager who provide any escalation of the tactical operational response needed for incident management at structural, vegetation or other situations that arise.”

Only qualified, experienced and skilled professional career firefighters can command an incident and therefore these civilian Region Managers cannot have an Authorised Command Level. They cannot be involved in operational matters and decision-making simply because they are not qualified to do so. This is a health and safety matter – for the community and for firefighters. If Members are subjected to unqualified managers attempting to take command and control over operational matters please notify the NZPFU immediately.

In unity,
Wattie Watson 
National Secretary

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