Dear Levin Brigade volunteers,

As you may be aware, in their June 2020 report “Levin Volunteer Fire Brigade Critical Day Staffing”  Region Manager Te Upoko Bruce Stubbs and Area Manager Mitchell Brown reported “the Levin Volunteer Fire Brigade has increasingly been unable to provide adequate available qualified volunteer officers and drivers to ensure the 1st response appliance meets acceptable response requirements”  and that the limited availability of qualified volunteer personnel (when all black watch are removed from the daily availability chart)“places the response risk at a critical level”.

FENZ’s answer is to introduce one career Officer and one career firefighter (driver qualified) onto the Levin Station.  The NZPFU has raised safety issues with FENZ’s proposal and concerns regarding the limitations of its report which has been used as a business case for the two-career crew model.  

But missing from the conversation are the views and expectations of the Levin Volunteer Brigade.

Last week we wrote to the Levin Volunteer Brigade Acting Chief Fire Officer Ian Penn requesting an opportunity to meet with him and the Brigade’s volunteers to hear the Brigade’s views on FENZ’s proposal and what the Brigade thinks needs to happen for the Brigade to continue to support its community.   Acting CFO Penn responded simply declining our request without any reason and in an email signed off in his position as Acting Assistant Area Commander. Attached is a copy of that correspondence.

We have also written to the acting CEO of the UFBA Ritchie Smith requesting he facilitates such a meeting.  We have not had a response.

Last week the NZPFU National President and I met with FENZ Board Chair Paul Swain, CEO Rhys Jones and National Commander Kerry Gregory.  Amongst other matters we discussed the Levin Brigade.  The upshot of that discussion was that the National Commander said he would organise a meeting with the Brigade and with FENZ management also in attendance.  To date we have not received an invitation for such a meeting.

We understand that Area Management have widely circulated a letter dated 3 September 2020 from the CEO and National Commander to me as the NZPFU National Secretary.

In that letter they claim the NZPFU position and public statements on the issue was “an affront to the volunteer personnel”.   It was not our intention to insult volunteers and we apologise if any offence has been taken.  At all times we have approached this matter as a response issue with the protection of the community and safe systems of work our priority.  We commend the Levin Brigade for its outstanding service to the community and acknowledge the high number of incidents the Brigade is expected to respond to.  There are many reasons why a Brigade cannot sustain levels of response, or response at various times.  We do not mean that as a criticism of any volunteers.  We acknowledge that work/family/personal commitments impact on a volunteer’s availability to train and respond.  Volunteers should not be expected to be respond 24/7 every day.

We genuinely want to hear from the Brigade directly about what should be done to address current response concerns.  We also see this as an opportunity to build on the relationship between volunteer and career firefighters, understand each other’s perspectives, and discuss the practicalities of sharing the same station and facilities.

It is for the above reasons that we have resorted to this open letter setting out our request to meet.  We understand it is likely that the members of the Brigade would only be available in the evenings or the weekend and we are willing to meet at the time that suits the Brigade.  As FENZ has now advertised for professional career staff to be stationed at Levin, we respectfully request that such a meeting is organised as a matter of urgency.  I can be contacted on 021 928 819 directly to discuss any of the above, including making arrangements for a meeting.

Yours sincerely,
Wattie Watson
NZPFU National Secretary

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