NZPFU demands air testing at Nelson fires

The NZPFU has informed FENZ that monitoring for Carbon Monoxide (CO) levels and individual testing for firefighters are required in Nelson after three incidents of volunteer firefighters experiencing dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

FENZ claims there is no evidence to indicate that the three incidents of illness was caused by CO exposure or a contributing factor yet one day of using a gas detector on site showed varying levels of CO including high readings. All three incidents have been put down to heat stress and dehydration, but we do not know if any of the three had their CO levels tested by medical practitioners.

FENZ has monitored the fireground for one day and despite some high levels of CO being detected, further monitoring is not occurring until “new information” comes to hand. Without ongoing testing that new information can only mean new cases of illness!

This is not good enough. FENZ knows there have been high levels of CO and must take all reasonable steps to monitor the conditions and remove crews in danger.

The NZPFU has notified FENZ that in the very least all operational crews should be deployed with a gas detector. We have also required individual testing of firefighters as they enter and exit the deployment areas. This is the minimum actions required in a protracted incident where medium to high CO levels have been detected.

In the interim we advise all members of the following:

  • For NZPFU members currently deployed we require a gas detector for each crew before being operationally tasked onto the fireground. Six gas detectors have been sent to Nelson and we have notified FENZ that we require a gas detector for every crew. If a gas detector is not available or provided we advise that you do not deploy into an unmonitored fire ground and notify the NZPFU immediately.
  • If any member suffers any symptom including a headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting please see a doctor immediately and seek a blood test of CO levels. All such incidents should be logged into the accident kiosk.
  • If you receive a request to be deployed and operationally tasked at the Nelson fires, first ask whether your crew will be provided with a gas detector and whether you will be individually tested. If not, then our advice is not to deploy until these matters critical to your health and safety are resolved.
  • If in doubt, don’t deploy and ring National President Ian Wright 021 497 448 or Secretary Wattie Watson 021 928 819 for assistance.

We are continuing to push FENZ for more information including who is investigating the incidents, whether the appropriate authorities including Worksafe have been notified and whether the volunteer firefighters did have their CO levels tested by medical practitioners.

We have notified FENZ that there will be no defence of, or for, FENZ with this serious and significant failure of duty of care.

In unity, 
Wattie Watson 
Secretary

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