FENZ is failing the Levin community


FENZ is currently failing the Levin community.   

FENZ is not providing the emergency response that meets its own requirements or the community’s needs.  FENZ recognises it needs to act to protect the community but its intention to supplement the volunteer brigade with a two-person career crew will still not meet the community’s needs and it will breach health and safety requirements.

FENZ’s own briefing paper detailing the response failures in Levin records the unfair and unrealistic expectations on the volunteer brigade:

“With recent retirements, resignations, shift in availability and qualified personnel in the Levin Volunteer Fire Brigade – the ongoing Monday to Friday operational capability has been eroded past the need to just support the brigade through the school holiday two-week period, to now require more permanent operational cover for the ongoing needs for brigade. This will ensure the first appliance and then the second appliance operationally able to be responded.   A profile of the current brigade membership, including recent recruits notes that the ability for brigade members to become qualified as officer and firefighter drivers for both the Levin Pump and Pump Rescue Appliances to respond is critically limited.’  [FENZ’s own emphasis]

The Levin Brigade is a busy station with 406 calls in the past year and 60% of those calls required a two-truck response:

  • That means the volunteer brigade is being expected to crew including an officer and a qualified driver on average 8 times a week.
  • That means the volunteer brigade is being expected to respond 8 firefighters (including an officer and two drivers) on average for more than 4 of those 8 calls.
  • That means Levin’s volunteers, business and families are expected to maintain that response of an average 8 calls a week during business hours, weekends and weeknights every week.  Depending on the call the volunteer could be at the incident for hours.
  • And those call statistics do not include the additional required hours for the volunteers to train, maintain their skills and competencies or perform other duties including checking alarms and community work.

The unreasonable expectations on the volunteer brigade is failing the volunteers and their community.  Regularly the brigade is unable to respond one fire truck let alone two.  That puts the safety and welfare of the community at unnecessary risk.  Any delays in response impact directly on the firefighter’s ability to control fires, perform rescues and save lives.

Volunteers should not be expected to be available 24/7 for every day of the year.  The data shows the Levin volunteers understandably cannot be expected to be available all the time.  On a regular basis the Levin brigade is unable to respond one fire truck let alone two due to the unavailability of volunteers, qualified drivers and Officers.   

Volunteering in New Zealand has changed.  Many volunteers no longer work in the areas where they live and volunteer.  Work and personal commitments impact on the time available to train, maintain skills and response.  FENZ relies on these volunteers to not only respond to emergencies but to undertake other fire safety duties in their communities.  This is no criticism of the volunteer brigades but a reality of modern life. 

The NZPFU welcomes moves to support the Levin volunteer brigade to continue serving the Levin Community.  The Palmerston North career firefighters have been supporting the Levin brigade in the school holidays but the latest report shows that school holidays are not the pressure-point in the volunteers availability – the inability for the brigade to respond at all is an issue throughout the year.

The NZPFU with Palmerston North and Wellington Local representatives have repeatedly met with FENZ and informed them that all decisions should be made on the basis of meeting response and performance requirements for the community while maintaining safe systems of work.  We have repeatedly informed FENZ that the NZPFU does not support the introduction of two-person crews on the basis of health and safety.  

A two-person crew cannot respond safely, will not be able to safely rescue anyone trapped and will leave the community and the firefighters at unnecessary risk.  It is a breach of the minimum staffing requirements of four-person crews.

The NZPFU has also provided details on why a four-person career crew is required to meet FENZ’s own service delivery requirements for Levin, and the need to take a Kapiti/Horowhenua approach to ensuring the community is protected.

Last night FENZ decided to ignore the evidence and emailed Palmerston North firefighters asking for expressions of interest from an Officer and a qualified firefighter/driver. 

The NZPFU strongly advises our members not to respond to that request as this two-person career crew proposal is not in your interests, breaches your safe systems of work and does not meet the needs of the Levin community.

The NZPFU agrees that Levin Volunteer Brigade should be supported in order to be able to respond to emergencies.  The continuation of that volunteer brigade and its ability to respond to critical to the community.  The introduction of one career crew will provide that support as our members do across New Zealand in areas with career/volunteer combined stations. 

  • The introduction of a full career crew will guarantee a response within the required response times. 
  • Available volunteers will be able to continue to respond and Levin will get the fire and emergency protection it deserves. 
  • A career crew will guarantee the responding crews have the best chance of a successful rescue and the minimise the extent and damage to homes and businesses.  The quicker a full crew can get to the incident the better the outcome for all affected.
  • A career crew will greatly improve the two-crew response within the required respond times. 
  • It will enable volunteers to have the time to train and upskill and will reduce the responsibility of non-emergency work on volunteers.   It will reduce the impact on volunteer’s employers and families.

The FENZ business case supporting only a two-person career crew is weak.  It does not remove the ongoing and unsustainable expectations on volunteers, their employers and their families.   It continues to place responsibility and reliance on a few individuals being willing and available to train as an Officer or driver and to maintain those competencies.    It does not take a regional or forecasted view of the needs of the community.    There is no reference to forward population growth or the impact Transmission Gully and the Otaki bypass will have in drawing in population and industry to the area.  Levin is not stagnant and the Horowhenua is growing.   It does not recognise that the projected population growth in the area is unlikely to provide the necessary numbers of volunteer firefighters as the motorway will increase the numbers of those commuting to work.

The Levin volunteer brigade has served its community admirably and with the support of a career crew will continue to do so.  They need the support to meet the needs of the community and with the additional support of a career crew Levin will have the protection it deserves.

We have told FENZ we will work with them to support the Levin Brigade to meet the demands of the necessary community protection.  But we won’t compromise on health and safety for the firefighters or the community. 

Should any member have any concerns about any of the above, including FENZ’s request for expressions of interest to staff a two-person career crew in Levin, please contact me or the National President Ian Wright directly.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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