New "Crew Conversations" pilot

These can be difficult, confusing and for some scary times – where is the line drawn on acceptable and not acceptable language, gender descriptions, jokes, and humour?

NZPFU members have raised their fears of unintentionally offending someone, and it is confusing as what might offend one person does not offend all.

Some of the issues raised with the NZPFU were:

  • As a crew we have a great sense of humour, and humour is a coping mechanism to deal with the job and trauma we face – why is that now an issue?
  • What is politically correct terms? Women, females or ladies? Blokes, boys or men? I am confused as it seems to depend on the person and there doesn’t seem to be a clear right or wrong?
  • How do we deal with being co-located with those that do not understand for career firefighters our station is also our home? How far can we push to protect our areas where we can speak freely?
  • As a crew we always have this banter – we aren’t trying to be offensive we are just having a bit of fun? How can someone that is not part of our crew complain about how we talk with each other?
  • My crew is great - I really enjoy working them but their jokes and comments get a bit tiring and repetitive. I don’t think they realise that their negative comments about a particular neighbourhood in our response area actually offends me. I don’t know how to raise it without it becoming a big deal because it isn’t a major for me really. I worry that if I do bring it up the rest of the crew might start excluding me from conversations.

The answer is there is no clear line, it does depend on who you are, where you are and who the audience is. There are some obvious no-go areas but the middle ground is broad and blurry. Sometimes it is hard to speak up and say a joke used to be funny but it isn’t any more.

The NZPFU was concerned this dilemma could result in firefighters clamming up or stop talking when someone walks into the room rather than risk offence. The NZPFU was very concerned that the important coping mechanism of humour was under threat. We want career firefighters to be comfortable on station and supportive of each other without losing the banter and humour.

With the assistance of the FENZ Women’s Development Group the NZPFU and FENZ have agreed to a pilot programme of Crew Conversations in 5 different stations.

The pilot offers career crews with an opportunity to get together with an external facilitator to talk about these types of issues and how it affects their crew, what are the contentious issues for them and what is acceptable for their crew. For some it might be raising a consciousness about what they are saying or how they say it – for others it might be the chance to get some issues off their chest – for the crew it will be a chance to agree to what is acceptable for their crew. It will also be an opportunity to talk about how they work with new crew members or others on overtime and how they can raise issues with others that impose on their space. They might reach a point where they can decide what is acceptable and not acceptable and how they will raise issues in the future.

The facilitator will have a framework to get the conversation started and provide some good communication tools but the specific issues discussed will be up to the crew.

Paraparaumu career crews (up to and including SSO) are the first to have these crew conversations. Each coloured watch will meet separately on overtime for a 2.5 – 3 hour session before a night shift. The NZPFU will be checking in with the crews to see if the experience was valuable and relevant, what needs to be changed and what difference it has made for the crew.

Any changes will be made before the rest of the pilot is conducted in the four other stations across all shifts. The four other stations in the pilot will be notified shortly.

In unity,

Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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