Taking all available steps to reduce firefighters’ exposures to carcinogens is fundamental and this week level 2 PPE was removed from the engine bay at Christchurch City Station.

The Christchurch Local and Southern Branch representatives have worked hard to keep their members’ safe and are to be congratulated as this is a significant achievement in reducing ongoing exposures to carcinogens.

Our members in Christchurch have been living and working in sub-standard conditions for the past 8 years including the open storage of their Level 2 PPE in the engine bay.

Initially the sub-standard conditions were supposed to be only very temporary measures pending a move to a newly built temporary station while the earthquake damaged City Station was to be demolished and re-built to new station design. But eight years later very little has changed.

Our members were reticent to make their plight public as they were very conscious that the Christchurch community was suffering with thousands living in very poor conditions.

The open storage of the Level 2 PPE in the engine bay was subjecting our members unnecessarily to carcinogens. The World Health Organisation has determined diesel exhaust fumes are carcinogenic to humans – the highest risk in the IARC scale. Exhaust extractors are not 100 percent effective and globally fire services are removing any PPE from the engine bay as one of the fundamental preventative actions to reduce exposures to carcinogens.

While the new temporary station is scheduled to be completed in a few months, this preventable exposure had to cease immediately.

In addition, the current plans for the temporary new station are not acceptable to the NZPFU as the firefighters’ accommodation does not have windows or natural light. The claim that the station will only be very temporary is no reason for Christchurch career firefighters to be housed in sub-standard conditions.

At her first meeting with FENZ CEO Rhys Jones and Board Chair Paul Swain, NZPFU Secretary Wattie Watson raised issue that will require changes to the station plans. The CEO understood windowless accommodation was unacceptable and undertook to follow up the issue promptly. We hope to have am update on that issue in the new year. 

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