The NZPFU will be meeting with FENZ to discuss the scope and nature of proposed research into mental wellness.

The current scope centres around a national prevalence study of the mental health and wellbeing of FENZ personnel. 

The NZPFU’s position is that there is relevant and reliable research internationally on the prevalence and nature of mental health issues for firefighters.  We don’t accept that New Zealand firefighters are vastly different to professional career firefighters who undertake medical response in other parts of the world.  While we recognise the value of evidence specific to the cohort of New Zealand we do not expect the results to be vastly different. 

That research should have been undertaken some time ago. We don’t have the luxury of spending limited research funds looking back – we need to focus on what we need to do to reduce the impacts of exposure, build resilience and learn how best to treat those suffering with mental health issues.  

Last year the National Secretary Wattie Watson and the National President Ian Wright were very fortunate to visit the IAFF Centre for Excellence in Maryland.  This is a residential centre with a programme specifically designed for firefighter mental wellness treatment. We spent the day with the medical professionals who were instrumental with the development and delivery of the programme.   That visit was immediately after attendance at the IAFF international health and safety symposium which is three days of a wealth of seminars on all facets of health and safety for firefighters.  One session was a panel of firefighters who had been treated at the IAFF Centre for Excellence.  These firefighters bravely and candidly spoke of the trauma they had experienced, their personal struggles and behaviours when dealing with the impact on that trauma, the professional and personal costs, the treatment at the Centre for Excellence and their lives post treatment including the maintenance of their mental wellness.   This was a valuable insight into programmes that have been specifically designed for firefighter mental wellness.

The IAFF Centre for Excellence was a result of a wealth of research and experience and now has a programme that has an impressive graduation rate. We are not suggesting that the NZPFU has an opportunity to develop an in-house residential programme.  But we have seen how the development of programmes for firefighters has been successful and the need to expose psychiatrists and psychologists to the methods that have proven to be of value for suffering firefighters.

NZPFU representatives have also had the benefit of attending the United Firefighters of Australia conference on firefighters’ mental wellness to hear from various experts in resilience and support programmes, as well as being provided with the background on the development and delivery of programmes by our global alliance leaders.

The NZPFU is strongly of the view that we need research to provide an evidential basis we can build upon to identify and either import or create effective resilience training and treatment programmes. Focusing on the prevalence of the problem will provide some useful data, but won’t help our members  directly.  FENZ has allocated limited funding for the research and we must use that funding to make progress in assisting firefighters, not to focus on the prevalence of self-assessed mental wellness status.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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