President's Blog: Heads up 11

I really feel moved to tell you all that we really appreciate the great work you are all doing to keep, not only the Public and their property safe, but yourselves and your crews safe as well.

This is such an important job, extremely dangerous in so many ways; psychologically, physically and medically.

I want to acknowledge the lengths Career Professional Firefighters go to, to train, to qualify, to progress through the ranks and learn all that needs to be learnt to keep us all safe when it matters. It is the why and how we all go home safely to our families. This applies equally to our Career Professional Managers who are trained and qualified the same and who were all NZPFU members in the past and who recognise and value the training, qualifications and experience required to effectively, efficiently and safely manage all incidents under Sections 11 and 12 of the FENZ Act 2017.

It is the breadth and depth of knowledge, gained through training, qualifications and experience that we need to rely on, even at the smallest, what may seem to be the most insignificant incidents and certainly those major incidents.

This blog sees Secretary Watson and myself back from a trip to a Health and Safety and EMS conference held in Nashville. With some 2500 delegates from Canada, North America and Australia. We soaked up as much information as we could over the weeks. Sessions we attended included

FIRST on a safer fire service and EMS culture (FIRST Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends Drexel University) which tracks, records injuries and correlates them to the safety culture in a fire service. Varying factors can contribute to a poor safety culture and this information provides the research and showed attendees how to improve their safety culture. Needless to say, training, types of calls, attacks on firefighters safe ways of working were to the forefront of creating poor safety cultures.

More than suppression: EMS and the NFPA was about having standards of pre hospital care for EMS work which affect EMS delivery, operations and quality management. NFPA 450 and 451 are only guides, not standards, outlines how to integrate EMS into Fire Services and standards 1001 and 1021 are FF and Officers professional Qualifications now include EMS Quals as the standard. There are a range of standards that deal with EMS and Fire. 1710, 1720 are station deployment including composite stations, including Basic life support travel time of 4 mins and Advanced life support travel time of 8 mins. Deals with response and staffing and ENS units vs Ambulances.

NFPA 1917 standards for Ambulances and NFPA 3000 standards for Active Shooter/hostile event response (ASHER) and prescribes joint training, risk assessment processes and preparedness. Involves the whole community, preparedness and recovery, integrated response and associated competencies required.

Canadian EMS Opportunities and Advances. We heard about three districts in Canada and their particular challenges. Alberta has a fully integrated department. All firefighters are cross trained and are advanced care paramedics. They have a mix of ALS engines and ambulances responding together. This dropped ambulance burnout which was a 7 year average and improved staff education and satisfaction at work. This has caused improved contact with the public, improving their impression amongst the public and education opportunities. They have 3 person ambulances and 4 person engines.

Winnipeg has over 400 licensed dual trained firefighters in Primary care. They now have 40 engines and 400 paramedics and about 71000 medical calls and have the best paramedic response times in Canada. 201 of their licensed paramedics transferred from the ambulance service to Fire. Having high numbers on scene has improved patient outcomes and is also safer for responders. They carry a multitude of drugs and use a 12 lead Defib which connects directly with a cardiologist at the hospital. Their response times are 4 minutes 90% of the time. There is a 3% premium for ambulance ALS for an Officer and a 2% premium for all others.

Ontario had a different more difficult road. They finally got Bill 160 passed in 2017 which put paramedics on fire appliances. They have a technical working group on pre hospital care. They have improved staffing but are still working on things as they have a tough political environment.

Women firefighters and their occupational health was a very interesting session. Particularly important, not only for our women is the effect on their children. Critical adverse effects on Follicle development and foetal development are apparent from the added stress, strain and anxiety of the job. Shift work, carcinogen exposure all could contribute to child development and women’s health in general. The San Francisco Department has the highest percentage of women in service than any other city in the US. They have, with Unions, scientists and health professionals started to monitor women’s health through biomonitoring of chemicals in blood and tissues of women. Miscarriage and pre term births are both extremely high amongst firefighters and the first 12 weeks of development is the most important which is why it is extremely important to not be exposed by being operational. Post birth and breastfeeding mothers are encouraged post exposure to working fires and the chemical concoctions involved are encouraged not to feed their baby for 72 hours post exposure. Male firefighters in a Danish study are 46% more likely to be in fertility treatment than non-firefighters. Needless to say reproductive health for all firefighters is of major concern.

Suicide and suicide prevention in the fire service discussed all that is known and what we do not yet know/understand about firefighter suicide. Talked of prevention and postvention which is to facilitate the healing of individuals from grief and distress of suicide loss. Over 30 states have had increases in Firefighter suicide of between 19-58% from 1999-2016. There is an Act in progress called helping responders overcome which will require a system of information collection around first responder suicide so that what we all know can be validated by science and help fund support activities. The IAFF is currently developing a suicide intervention package available to all FF peer supporters. We also will have access to their peer supporters program. They also do a lot of work on postvention, after a suicide. It is an organised response in the aftermath of a suicide. It is very comprehensive and complete in so far as detailing what communication should be promulgated.

If you are in need or having suicidal feeling and thoughts, please reach out to family and friends and call or txt 1737 any time.

We were also extremely privileged to be invited to visit and learn about the IAFF’s Center for Excellence for behavioural health treatment and recovery. It is the Union’s residential treatment facility for firefighters suffering from PTSD, Addiction, Substance Abuse and Mental Health. The Union developed this through a partnership with a very professional and committed health care provider. It has 64 beds situated in “firehouses” and yes they look and feel like a fire station, Gym, pool, sports equipment and fields/courts and miles of walking trails through the Maryland country side. It has the honour of being the first dually licensed mental health and addiction treatment center exclusively for IAFF members.

We also visited the very impressive IAFF headquarters in Washington DC. The information, work produced and support for firefighters and Union officials out of that building and those people is second to none.

You will have noticed a change in communication from the Union recently. We are bringing to your attention some particularly disturbing happenings/proposals for what is essentially the civilianisation of the Fire Service. A service whereby Qualifications, Training and Experience of Career Professional Firefighters are being ignored, downplayed and marginalised. A service where even Senior Commanders prefer to wear civilian clothes and not their Uniform. These commanders worked up through the ranks, our ranks, undertaking the same recruitment processes, training, qualifications that we all have and to not wear your Uniform in a Uniformed, disciplined organisation is mind boggling.

We have had our SME’s attend meetings, present screeds of supporting information and evidence that gives sound logic for our reasoning and yet it has fallen on deaf ears because it doesn’t suit and is inconvenient to current management philosophies and gambling. I firmly believe that despite the rhetoric coming forth from the very senior managers and others about inclusiveness and embracing diversity, they have no such plan to recognise our diversity or our contributions to public safety.

Some have said and will continue to say that our comments are divisive, this could not be further from the truth. We are standing up for the safety of the public and the professionalism of firefighters in New Zealand. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

I urge you to listen and read the consultation documents that the Union will send to you. We want you all to submit your ideas and concerns directly to us so that we can use your expertise to assist us in developing what will be a comprehensive submission.

This is extremely important, not only to you now, but for those to come. Remember, it is our job to leave this job better than how we found it.

Just as we were attacked in the 90’s and suffered, we did so for the betterment of public and firefighter safety. Because all of our training, qualifications, skills and experience is what gets us home every day. Let’s keep it that way.

On a final note, we are, and you all will be very interested to know that we have received an unprecedented amount of interest from FENZ people wanting to join the Union, including those from highly ranked managerial positions in NHQ.

As always, stay safe

Ian Wright
President
New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union

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